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'Very frightening' that Alberta is relaxing care home visitation rules: seniors advocate

FILE photo of an elderly person's hands. (Credit: PIXABAY/ Sabine van Erp)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — An Alberta advocacy group says now is not the time to relax province-wide COVID-19 protocols surrounding continuing care visits.

The Alberta government is loosening some restrictions related to visitation policies in long-term care facilities in the province beginning May 10.

But Public Interest Alberta, while acknowledging the pandemic has taken a toll on the province’s seniors, says this would do a disservice to the residents in homes in the long run.

“It is very frightening right now to see any relaxing,” said Terry Price, chair of the seniors’ task force at Public Interest Alberta. “I believe if we relax the restrictions given the rapid increase in the variants of COVID that we’re not keeping our residents safe any longer if we do this.

“And then when you couple that with the fact that the province has now passed liability insurance for care homes that raises the standard that … any complainant has to be able to prove. It just puts way too much responsibility in the hands of the operators and not enough to protect the rights of the residents.”

The UCP government justified the decision to relax visitation policy because “active cases in long-term care have declined from the peak,” which was in December 2020. Provincial data suggests care home hospitalizations have decreased by 93 per cent and fatalities have decreased by 94 per cent.

“Long-term care residents need joy, hope, and connection just like everyone else,” said Premier Jason Kenney. “They have shouldered the burden of this pandemic and sacrificed important time with their loved ones and I’m glad that we are able to ease these restrictions.”

WATCH: Kenney, Shandro provide update on easing restrictions in Alberta’s continuing care facilities (April 26)

The province says the decision was finalized after speaking to continuing care operators, residents and staff at these facilities.

“Based on the feedback of those most impacted, the available data and the power of vaccines, we are striking the right balance between protecting residents and staff from COVID-19 and enabling their quality of life,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

The changes to Alberta’s continuing care visitation policy (as of May 10):

  • Indoor visits with up to four visitors from same household (with mask and distancing)
  • Outdoor visits with up to 10 people (including the resident)
  • Residents can grant unrestricted access to four family members or support staff

The government says each individual facility can adjust those protocols as needed.

But Price says many of the facilities are simply not designed to adequality implement these new measures, notably the indoor gatherings.

“Many of these facilities, some of them are quite old, many of them are not laid out in such a way to be conducive to any kind of indoor visitation,” she said. “Often we have more than one person in a room.

“What are the social spaces that might be big enough to have up to four designated family members to come in? What spaces do they have to travel through in that building to get to that social space?”