Balancing safety with quality of life as OMNI homes head into winter

While keeping residents safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the top priority for OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes, safety protocols should be balanced with measures to continue providing residents a high quality of life, says the organization’s president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

Although directives from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have eased restrictions on family visits, group programming and outdoor activities in recent months, there has been concern about what will be done to balance safety and quality of life once the colder months arrive.

The future of visitation, especially, has some family members concerned. It’s important that long-term-care home residents can visit their loved ones because this helps residents stay emotionally healthy. McCarthy says in order to maintain in-home visits during winter, testing for the highly contagious COVID-19 virus will need to remain intact.

“There are huge benefits to visitation, but at the same time everyone needs to recognize the  vulnerability in long-term care settings that can only be contained through frequent testing, rigorous tracing by Public Health, and strict adherence to masking, hygiene and PPE (personal protective equipment) protocols,” he says.

“There is a need to continue following the guidelines.”

Currently, staff members working in OMNI long-term care homes are being tested twice per month, and residents are tested if they show any symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Visiting family members must confirm they’ve had a negative COVID-19 test result within the past two weeks.

Another area of concern has been the future of activities and programming once winter arrives.

In summer and throughout autumn, group programs can be taken outdoors, but colder temperatures will mean more time spent inside long-term care homes for residents.

Compounding this is the fact that older homes have less space, which can make social distancing a challenge.

However, McCarthy says these challenges can be overcome by modifying activities and maintaining the use of PPE for staff members.

“Programming will continue to be modified for indoors to make sure it provides safe distancing and protocols around PPE,” he says.

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