Balancing the risks and benefits of visitation during a pandemic

One of the greatest challenges the global COVID-19 pandemic has presented for long-term care homes is determining the balance between maintaining quality of life for residents while adhering to safety protocols to keep the extremely contagious virus out of homes.

Finding and maintaining this balance is especially important in long-term care homes because residents, who are affected by complex care needs, are more vulnerable than other segments of the population.

That said, the isolation that has prevented residents from having close contact with their loved ones makes them vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues.

The risk of lack of contact with family can also contribute to residents deteriorating in their physical condition, and that’s something OMNI Health Care has worked to address in the organization’s 17 long-term care homes from the onset of the pandemic.

When the pandemic was declared in March, OMNI homes immediately began turning to technology to facilitate virtual visits for residents and their loved ones via video conferencing platforms such as Skype, FaceTime and Zoom.

Video conferencing became so popular that staff working in life enrichment departments found scheduling and supervising these sessions was becoming a major part of their day.

Later, where Public Health guidance permitted, outdoor visits took place, with social distancing protocols.

In June, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care issued guidelines allowing supervised outdoor visits between residents and one family member at a time, with social distancing measures in effect.

The visiting family member also had to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from within the previous 14 days.

Last week, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced that effective July 22, residents can have indoor visits with up to two people at a time, provided their visitors “verbally attest” to having had a negative COVID-19 test within the past two weeks.

Social distancing protocols will continue to be in effect.

OMNI is pleased to see the ministry relaxing visitation restrictions between residents and their loved ones in phases while maintaining necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of residents.

As long as we are faced with the global pandemic, we will need to strike a balance between maintaining safety and providing a high quality of life for residents.

While there is some degree of risk that comes with relaxing visitation restrictions, these risks are mitigated when proper protocols are in effect.