B.C. eases rules on long-term care visitation, asks for patience amidst staffing shortages

The province has announced plans to lift restrictions on visitors at some long-term care facilities on Thursday. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said by March 18, most long-term care facilities are expected to be ready for more visitors, who must be fully vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 when entering.

She also said staff shortages may be an issue at some facilities.

“Operators may need to manage visitation based on the situation with each individual care home,” she said.

“So what I’m asking for is patience over the coming week. All of the care home operators will communicate with families around their plans for resuming broader social visitation,” she said, adding visits may have to be planned in advance or spaced out in some cases.

Terry Lake, president of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said prior to Thursday’s announcement, residents were allowed one essential visitor, who is approved to provide service that staff cannot provide, along with one designated visitor, who can visit even during an outbreak. 

He said he is glad more people will be able reconnect with loved ones in care, but reiterated Henry’s plea for patience. 

“Each home is in a bit of a different situation, so some homes may be able to open up visitation much more quickly than others.” 

Lake said people who enter facilities will still need to be fully vaccinated, wear masks in common areas, and take a rapid test.

“The logistics of testing increasing visitors at the door will be a challenge,” he said. “So we’re seeking clarity on whether this can be done at home or needs to be done at the home itself.”

Lake said they hope to receive detailed guidelines from the province as soon as possible.

Pandemic shines light on staffing issues

Lake said the pandemic has exacerbated staffing issues at long-term care. As the population continues to age, he said, the need for more workers will only increase. 

“We really haven’t done the hard work of making sure we have personnel ready to fill that gap,” he said. 

Lake lauded a plan announced Thursday to have B.C.’s immigration program focus on health-care workers and early childhood educators.

Mable Elmore, parliamentary secretary for seniors’ services and long-term care, said in a release that the changes to the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program — where the province nominates applicants in prioritized occupations for permanent residence — will streamline the process for people in those occupations.

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