WESTLOCK - Only one designated person at a time can visit seniors in Homeland Housing lodges or the Continuing Care Centre, say Alberta health officials.
The measures are more drastic when it comes to children, who are not allowed in facilities at all and centres are prepared to fully restrict visitation if the situation escalates.
“The well-being of our residents and staff is paramount to any decisions we make around COVID or any responses we have with COVID. We follow the chief medical officer of health’s directive and also any protocols through Alberta Health Services and the Ministry of Health,” said Homeland Housing CEO Raymond Cormie March 19.
At the time, the restrictions stated that two individuals can visit a family member, but the limit was tightened March 20 by AHS at the advice of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer.
Family members of affected lodge residents were contacted beginning March 18 about the new measures, said Cormie. Families were asked to restrict visits to urgent or necessary matters.
“All of our lodge residents have received a memo from me outlining what safety precautions can be taken with COVID, basically what the symptoms are (fever, shortness of breath, general fatigue, cough) so we ask the residents self-monitor and if they notice those symptoms to bring that forward to us right away,” said Cormie.
He added: “Any resident that is displaying cold- or influenza-like symptoms or is tested positive for COVID-19 would be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
If residents wish to leave the lodges, they are being asked to practice social distancing and keep a safe distance of two metres from other people.
“We discourage them to go downtown and go shopping because then you’re with other people. At the end of the day, if they choose to do that, we prefer they don’t do it, but I can’t stop them,” said Cormie.
When they return, they’re asked to sanitize their hands and go directly to their suite and wash their hands.
The measures also apply to the type of programming available in lodges.
“Any of our recreation programming that would involve the public or family attending, we’re asking the public and the families not to attend. We would still do those programs internally with the residents, but of course practice the appropriate social distancing.”
Recreational bus outings have also been cancelled.
At Homeland Housing, an internal working group meets weekly, or as needed, to review infection control practices that need to be implemented across 11 communities in north-central Alberta.
“We have also implemented all of our infection prevention controls. We are now doing heightened cleaning through all of our lodges with respect to high-touch surfaces, providing regular information to our staff at staff meetings, and regular correspondence with our residents,” said Cormie.
These practices already exist and are normally applied from October to March during influenza season, to which seniors are also susceptible.
Any individual entering a lodge (e.g. trades or deliver personnel) is also screened upon entry with an AHS-provided form. Should they present symptoms, companies will be asked to send replacements.
“It comes down to having good hand hygiene practices, respiratory etiquette, coughing or sneezing into the crux of the elbow, and maintaining a safe social distance. Those are the keys to reducing the likelihood of contracting COVID-19,” said Cormie.
“This is going to go on for several months. This is not something we’ll be out of in a week or two.”
The Homeland Housing board has also been advocating with the Alberta government to ensure proper and uninterrupted supply lines for essential products like disinfectant, masks and gloves.
“I don’t think it’s an issue yet, and we don’t want it to become an issue,” said Town of Westlock Coun. Clem Fagnan, who sits on the board.
“I think our CEO has taken care of that, he’s spoken to the deputy minister (of seniors). We want to make sure, if something does happen, that we have supplies. … We’re not talking just for us, we’re talking of all the management bodies in Alberta.”
As of March 19, one staff member at Homeland Housing whose spouse travelled outside of Canada was placed in self-isolation without presenting symptoms, but no residents or personnel contracted the virus.
AHS placed restrictions on visitors to its long-term care and continuing care facilities March 18, asking that only essential visitors, in the form of an immediate family member or designated person, be allowed.
“Essential visitors are defined as those providing care necessary for the well-being of the resident, and those attending to a resident who is dying,” clarified AHS via e-mail March 19.
Similar to Homeland Housing, no children are allowed at the Continuing Care Centre.
“This restriction is in place as we know that children do not necessarily show symptoms of COVID-19, and could therefore pose an unknown risk to the health of patients and staff.”
Individuals who have transmittable illnesses, are immunocompromised, in self-isolation for COVID-19, being tested for the virus, or have already tested positive will not be allowed to visit.
The limitations placed on senior facilities, although necessary to prevent the spread of the virus to those most likely to present complications, have consequences on the mental health and stability of seniors who are increasingly isolated.
“It has to be hard for the residents, because I’m sitting home myself. It’s not like living in your own home because you’re next door to someone else … once somebody gets it, it has the tendency of spreading very fast,” said Fagnan.
AHS is encouraging family members to use alternate means of communicating with their family members, suggesting FaceTime and Skype as available options.
Dr. Hinshaw reiterated that message in the March 20 press conference, when tighter measures were put in place for senior facilities:
“One of the most meaningful actions Albertans can take (to protect seniors) is simply picking up the phone. Even spending just a few minutes on the phone with a senior can go a long way toward reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is especially important for seniors who are living alone, in addition to those who are in residential care facilities.”
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