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‘It’s heartbreaking’: Alberta woman describes visiting her mom during the pandemic

Last Updated Feb 22, 2021 at 5:49 pm MDT

(CREDIT: iStock Photo)

An Alberta woman says seniors need better quality family visits

A woman describes visits with her mom in designated living as heartbreaking

Indoor visits are needed between seniors and their families according to an Alberta woman

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Janet Franklin’s 95-year-old mother was diagnosed with dementia around eight years ago and has been living in an Edmonton designated support IV secure facility for the past four years.

Franklin says they could visit anytime they wanted until Canada recorded its first case of COVID-19 bringing in-person visits to a halt.

“One day we were visiting, the next day we were locked out. The code changed on the door and no family could come in,” she said. “One of the most frustrating things about that was that we had no notice, and we were not consulted.”

At that point, Franklin says the only ways to visit with her mom were either virtually or through the window. Luckily her mother living at ground level made that possible–an option not afforded to everyone in care facilities.

Franklin recalls, as if it were yesterday, standing outside her mother’s window in the cold holding up signs.

“We wrote ‘I love you’. We said, ‘How are you today?’” she said.

“It was very distressing because mom knew that we were someone special to her and she would motion to us to come in and we wouldn’t come in and she would get just frustrated and just turn her back to us or go to sleep or not engage with us. So it’s heartbreaking.”

It was welcome news in the summer, though, when designated support visitors were allowed to go into residents’ rooms to visit with full PPE, and even better in August when for around two weeks she could visit with her mother outside and even take her to the dentist, optometrist, and hairdresser.

Fast forward to the end of November when Franklin says two staff members tested positive for COVID-19, so for about six weeks her mother lived with her.

“The lack of any family consultation, any family involvement, any family input to this process has been extremely stressful and disturbing,” said Franklin.

Franklin explains the only time family members were asked for input was during Zoom round tables, in which thousands of people expressed to Alberta’s top doctor, Deena Hinshaw, their extreme frustration with the rules.

Currently, Franklin says she can book an appointment to see her mom. The stipulations are only one designated support visitor is allowed at a time and they must wear a shield and mask.

The other option is any person approved by the facility can sit outside the seniors’ window and can connect with them by phone. Zoom and over-the-phone visits are also by appointment.

“These rules for people who have dementia have resulted in them losing—permanently—any relationship with their family,” she explained, adding seniors with dementia and their families need to have shared experiences.

“The staff are wonderful they are, they’re angels, they’re working under adverse circumstances for very little money. But they can’t love my mom like I love my mom.”

NDP says Alberta needs an independent seniors advocate

As of Friday, Alberta’s official opposition says 1,173 residents of long-term care and designated supportive living have died due to COVID-19.

NDP Seniors and Housing Critic Lori Sigurdson says the UCP has repeatedly run away from questions regarding the crisis in continuing care and is ignoring the real need for change.

“An independent seniors’ advocate with investigative power would bring transparency and clear direction on how to make seniors’ lives better.”

Sigurdson adds Janice Harrington, a former Executive Director of the United Conservative Party, “remains silent in Alberta, protecting her political allies while epically failing Alberta seniors.”

Meantime, UCP Seniors and Housing Press Secretary Natalie Tomczak says in January 2020, the Office of the Seniors Advocate was combined with the Office of the Health Advocates.

“With this change, seniors have one number to call for information, advocacy, and referrals about Alberta government services: 780-422-1812, or online at albertahealthadvocates.ca.”

Contrary to what Sigurdson is saying, Tomczak, says “seniors have an advocate, it resides with the Office of the Health Advocates.”

Franklin is in favour of having an independent seniors advocate, who isn’t swayed by other interests.

“It’s a unique, complicated area and more and more people are becoming in need of these services,” said Franklin. “These residents and their families need to be involved and need to have a powerful voice at the decision-making table.”

In addition to establishing an advocate, Franklin suggests more money and resources need to be put towards providing safe family visits for seniors. She thinks they could have a room inside, with a barrier and a camera.

“While everyone says these are the most vulnerable in our community, I challenge you to tell me what resources have been put to long-term care, supportive living, and particularly dementia units since the onset of the pandemic?” she questioned.

“Some thought has got to be given to the need of these residents to have their family in their life.”