COVID-19 a delicate balancing act for care home providers

Residents, staff, volunteers, board and auxiliary members, and kids from Blooms and Buds Daycare pose for a photo with the piles of food collected for the Prince Albert Food Bank during Mission Week and Mont St. Joseph Home. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The COVID-19 pandemic has put special and long-term care home operators in a difficult situation.

While Saskatchewan has avoided the mass outbreaks that have led to multiple deaths in long-term care in other provinces, that has come at a cost.

Visiting has been reduced to almost nothing, and most programs have come to an end.

While that may have contributed to protecting residents, it’s also had an impact on their quality of life.

“From a provider perspective, COVID-19 has been very disruptive, not only for the staff but for our residents, which are paramount. They’re why we’re here,” said Brian Martin, the executive director of Mont St. Joseph Home, a not-for-profit private care home in Prince Albert.

The virus has also impacted residents’ families, the volunteer program, and the way the home dos business.

“The impact has been huge and to a degree, a lot of it has not been very positive,” Martin said.

“It’s been very stressful, very demanding. There is much uncertainty. Everyone knows we are one visit away, either by a family member or by a staff member, who’s maybe not diagnosed with the virus, from some real challenges. It’s a struggle.”

There have been some good things, too, Martin said.

He’s been impressed by the home’s staff who are working and committed to taking care of the people who live at Mont St. Joseph.

“(The staff) see every day the implications of family not being able to visit. They see the implications of the volunteer programs, all the music therapy, all the visits from our children — it’s all gone,” he said.

“If anything, the staff have doubled their efforts trying to add a little levity, a little bit more of a personal touch, simply to support the people who live here. It’s amazing, actually.”

In early June, the Saskatchewan Health Authority expanded visitation for long[term care residents and for patients in critical care or the ICU.

The changes meant that quality of life considerations could be used in addition to care needs to determine if a designated family member or support person could be allowed to come in and see residents. Up to two family members or support people were allowed to visit at one time, so long as social distancing could be practiced.

Outside visit restrictions were also relaxed. Martin said the staff at Mont St. Joseph are eagerly awaiting the return of visitors once it’s possible.

“Everybody is hoping that as we open up our society again and try to get back to some new normal, people are going to be able to come and support their loved ones again,” he said.

“Nobody is looking forward to that more than I am.”

Even then, though, Martin said protocols in place will be labour intensive, including screening, masking and cleaning. He hopes people can be patient and understand that there are finite resources.

“We’re going to walk into this very carefully with expanded visitation opportunities, cheering all the way because we’re so happy for the families and the residents, but knowing that our first obligation to them is to make sure they’re’ safe.

“We’re so deeply appreciative of all the families who have been supportive of our efforts to that end. We can’t say enough how thankful we are.”

Read what it’s like to live in a care home during the COVID-19 outbreak:

One of our youngest Elders, Brendyn Beaudry interviewed his peers and Mont St. Joseph (MSJ) Home staff to determine what their thoughts were of COVID.  He indicated that his fellow Residents shared a common message while being interviewed………….everyone misses their families and friends.  

With Dr. Saqib Saab’s announcement to restrict visits, people living at MSJ Home had their life change dramatically.  Residents and families miss one another.  Elders miss the recreational, therapy and social opportunities they are accustomed to.  They miss sharing their faith with the clergy and parishes who visit.  Carol stated “this place is so quiet now.  I’ve never seen it so quiet.”  Donna looked pensively and said “I miss the children………we are all so lonely.”  Shirley misses everyone at Kin Enterprises.  Brendyn believes Kin misses Shirley!

When Elders were asked what they thought of COVID, the response was unanimous – “it sucks!”  But, Brendyn indicated that Residents are “appreciative of the MSJ staff.  They bring their stories, humour and personal touch that make Mont St. Joseph a great place to live.”  He understands staff are very impacted by the virus and believes this makes their contributions “even more special.”  He shared stories he had heard from Elders how staff care and support Residents in kind and unique ways.  

Shirley, Cecilia and Carol all spoke about staff doing ‘little’ things that make a difference.  The haircuts, visits with family through Skype, FaceTime and the phone, the treats, the pictures and messages shared on the monitors are so appreciated.  Carol wondered “where would we be without these opportunities to visit?”  Cecilia quietly observed how much she missed her friend.

Brendyn is excited about Phase II of Re-Open Saskatchewan.  For it to be successful, “everyone needs to co-operate and follow the rules.”  He’s not sure how long COVID will be here but someday, he will tell people he was here “when COVID changed the world.”