Alberta seeks balance in visitor policy for seniors homes after B.C. coronavirus death

A ban on visitors to seniors in care homes might help protect the most vulnerable from the coronavirus, but the social isolation would adversely affect their mental health, according to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

So the province is leaning toward a voluntary approach, says Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

But it’s no easy decision, after Canada’s first COVID-19 death at a seniors home in British Columbia on Sunday.

“Long-term care centres are extremely high risk if there should be an introduction of the virus,” Hinshaw told reporters Monday.

“But I think to restrict all visitors when we have a very low risk of exposure in the province, if we did that, it would likely go on for many months. Weighing those risks against the risks of isolation and loneliness, we are making judgments based on all of those risks.”

A man in his 80s who lived at a North Vancouver nursing home died late Sunday. The man had pre-existing health problems prior to contracting the coronavirus.

The Lynn Valley Care Centre facility where he was residing was identified as a COVID-19 hotspot late last week.

Mike Conroy is the president and CEO of the Brenda Strafford Foundation. (Brenda Strafford Foundation)

Care home boss gets symptoms

The president of a group of Calgary care homes says he’s worried — and that fear has touched him on a personal level.

Mike Conroy of the Brenda Strafford Foundation says reducing risk is the focus for the four foundation facilities.

“We are very concerned,” he told CBC News.

“Over half the deaths in the U.S. have occurred at a nursing home and the first Canadian death was at a B.C. nursing home.”

But there’s more.

Conroy recently returned from a work trip to the Caribbean and the impact of coronavirus came crashing down on him.

“I had cough and cold-like symptoms,” he said.

“I called Health Link. I was tested on Sunday and this morning I got the results. I am now cleared.”

Restrictions for visitors, staff

The foundation’s facilities — covering assisted living, supportive living and long-term care — are going above and beyond the province’s suggestions.

Restrictions are being placed on visitors who have travelled to high-risk countries, been on a cruise or are showing symptoms.

Same this for staff.

“We are very worried,” Conroy said.

“We are trusted with people’s care and safety.”

They are using digital alternatives to in-person visits, like Skype and FaceTime. And outings have been suspended, as have large groups visiting one of the homes.

Interaction important part of health

Still, Hinshaw says social interaction is a piece of this puzzle that has to be factored in.

“For humans, not just seniors, having company, having people to talk to, social interaction, is a really important part of our health,” she said.

Hinshaw says people who feel sick should avoid visits to long-term care homes.

As of Tuesday morning, Alberta has seven cases of COVID-19.

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