Monique Mussar calls her 90-year-old mother Rachelle Larocque a social butterfly.
Larocque lives at Pioneer Manor Long Term Care in Greater Sudbury, and her seven children had visited her frequently.
As of today, however, access for regular visitors has been suspended – due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility as well as new temporary provincial restrictions for all long-term care homes in Ontario.
With effect from 30 December, long-term care facilities are not allowed to admit ordinary visitors or allow residents to leave for social reasons.
Rod Phillips, Ontario’s longtime care minister, said the measures are to protect vulnerable residents from the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Mussar is also the caregiver for her husband and uncle, who are in other facilities than the one where her mother lives. Mussar has become protective of all of them and their mental health needs during the pandemic.
Given what is already known about COVID-19, Mussar said she understands that the temporary measures are intended to protect vulnerable individuals in long-term care, but questions why visitors should be excluded.
“Put on the gloves, the mask, the glasses – everything – and make sure that their protection is first and foremost by insisting that the visitor is fully vaccinated,” she said. “I think those things could be put in place where a resident can still get that person to come in and see them physically, not just over a phone or FaceTime.”
Mussar said she is still grateful that at least one or two primary caregivers will be able to visit their loved ones in long-term care.
Mental health versus physical health
In 2020, during the first few months of the pandemic, Mussar recalled that her mother’s mental health suffered greatly because she could not see anyone.
“It made my mother say the words I will never forget, which were, ‘I would rather die than continue living like an animal in a cage,'” she said.
Mussar added that she is willing to fight hard to prevent another full shutdown of long-term care.
“I wanted to wear my full boxing gloves and I go into someone’s office and say you can not do this because their mental health is as important as their physical health. I know they will not die of depression, but some of them, if they prefer to die rather than that … it’s going to be scary at that point. “
Mussar is convinced that all three of her loved ones receive wonderful care from the hard-working staff at the respective facilities where they live.
“The staff is truly outstanding.”
‘Worst Christmas in 75 years’
The temporary restrictions also include breaks in day passes for long-term caregivers who may have been raised for social reasons.
That’s something 75-year-old Sandy MacLennan already knows and had to deal with last week.
My heart was broken. I have not cried in seven years since my wife died, but they definitely got it out of me this time.– Sandy MacLennan, resident of St. Gabriel Villa
He lives on St. Gabriel Villa in Chelmsford. This facility initiated its own restrictions on December 23 and announced in just one day that all Christmas plans with families would be canceled.
“My tears are gone. I will not get them back. And yes, my heart was broken,” MacLennan said. “I have not cried in seven years since my wife died. But they definitely got it out of me this time.”
He had made plans to leave home and spend Christmas Day with his two sons and their families. Instead, he saw his grandchildren open their gifts from him on FaceTime.
“I lied to them. I told them my nurse came to see me and I had to go. I relaxed and I sat here and I cried in my room alone,” he said. “It’s hard to see your own family when you can not be there.
“It’s the worst Christmas I’ve ever had in 75 years.”
St. Gabriel Villa was shut down by Christmas 2020, but MacLennan said it was different because it was a provincial and public health directive, and residents knew it well in advance.
“They can not give me back my tears, my broken heart – not only me, there are people in here who do not understand, Christmas came and went, I also fight for their daughters and sons who are trying to get in. Here,” he said.
CBC made several attempts to reach St. Gabriel Villa and its parent company, St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Center. Messages were not returned before our deadline.
“I understand that these new, temporary measures will affect residents’ ability to have close contact with many of their friends and family members,” Phillips said during his news conference Tuesday. “We need to remain vigilant against the Omicron variant to protect long-term care residents and staff.”
“We know these measures are difficult for residents and families, but we must stand strong to protect our most vulnerable, which include residents in long-term care homes,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Health Officer.
The government said it will closely monitor the situation in long-term care homes and continue to adjust measures as needed to keep residents and staff safe.