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‘Why didn’t they let me in?’ B.C. families reflect on 12 months of visitor restrictions in long-term care

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VANCOUVER —
The objective was to keep B.C.’s most vulnerable residents in long-term care safe from COVID-19.

But a year of visitor restrictions left many seniors feeling lonely and isolated.

“I miss everybody and I want to see everybody,” said 96-year-old Ethel Lee from her Surrey care home.

Some families believe the voices of the elderly have been silenced during the pandemic, even though the pain of separation for them has been very real.

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“It’s absolutely horrific it’s gone on this long,” said Jeanette Harper, whose mother is in long-term care.

“Society will look back and see that they have failed their seniors.”

Despite tight visiting restrictions meant to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, almost three-quarters of those who died of COVID-19 in B.C. have been residents of nursing homes.

But there are many in care who died of other illness, without family beside them, because of the pandemic rules.

Vancouver Island resident Jas James said she helped with her mom’s care daily until the lockdowns.

“I never missed a day with Mom. I couldn’t believe this was happening,” James said, reflecting back to when visitor restrictions were implemented last March.

“I knew I had to get in. I knew she wouldn’t survive without me,” she told CTV News.

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But she remained shut out, and says her mom’s health rapidly deteriorated.

“She said her heart was not happy without me there,” James said of her mom, 90-year-old Nirmal Thiara.

“I was begging, ‘Let me stay with her.'”

But it wasn’t until her mom was in her final days that James was granted limited short visits, she said. Her mom died as James rushed to the care home to see her a third time. Thiara died 69 days into the lockdown.

“Every day I think, ‘What could I have done to be with her? Why didn’t they let me in?’ It haunts me,” James said.

“I will live with this forever. I never go this last chance with my mother.”

Most long-term care residents have now been given at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and health officials say they expect to announce changes to visitor restrictions before the end of the month.

“Now that people have been vaccinated, we need some hope. We need some light at the end of the tunnel,” Harper said.

But she also believes B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, should have acted sooner.

“I’m devastated. I think mistakes were made. They could have allowed more people in last year,” Harper says.

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“It’s been a tough, tough year,” says Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers.

“Was it fair to say we’re going to save as many lives as possible and not care about the quality that life carried in that final year? (There are) many questions, I think, that we need to ask ourselves,” he said.

He believes B.C. should launch a review into what has happened in long-term care during the pandemic.

“I think we will look back and wonder if we couldn’t have done more,” Lake said.

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