Level 90 visitor restrictions ‘a game-changer’ in long-term care

Compassionate care visitor restrictions fell far short of meeting residents’ needs, Mont St. Joseph CEO says

Mont St. Joseph CEO Wayne Nogier poses for a photo outside of the care home. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Provincial regulations that ease visitor restrictions at care homes with at least 90 per cent of residents fully vaccinated have been “like a rebirth,” Mont St. Joseph Home executive director Wayne Nogier says.

The care home was the first in the city to be designated a level 90 facility. In order to qualify, at least 90 per cent of residents have to have received at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and at least three weeks need to have passed since the most recent doses.

As of May 10, Mont St. Joseph remains the only Prince Albert care home to open at Level 90. Herb Basset and Pineview are both still designated as compassionate care. Over one-third of provincially designated long-term care homes have opened to Level 90.

In care homes designated as allowing family presence for compassionate care reasons only, each resident can designate two essential family or support people for quality of life or unmet care needs. Only one can be present at a time indoors.

At homes designated at level 90, there is no limit on the number of designated visitors and up to two may visit at a time indoors, with up to four allowed to visit outdoors. Fully vaccinated residents may also leave on a day pass without having to quarantine upon return. Residents who can’t be vaccinated may visit with people who have received two doses of vaccine at least three weeks prior.

Family presence can be further restricted if there is an outbreak or other additional risks, or if a care home falls below the 90 per cent threshold.

“For the better part of 14 months, we’ve had a very, very strict set of restrictions,” Nogier said.

“Last summer we allowed families to do some visiting outside, but when we hit October 2020, right up until we hit this level 90 plan, we were following compassionate care guidelines. We could only have two designated family members and they were not interchangeable.”

Concerned as well with the number of people they could have in the building, the ability to do infection control and contract tracing if necessary, compassionate care restrictions “met a very small number of the large number of needs that our residents have for human contact and spiritual care,” Nogier said.

Level 90, on the other hand, “is a vast improvement.

“Families that haven’t been able to get into this building for a year and a half are now making their way into our building. It’s a game-changer.”

Some health care workers and unions have expressed concerns that it’s too soon for care homes to open up, even if residents have been vaccinated, with the number of new cases and amount of variant spread in the community.

Nogier said he hasn’t had anyone disclose those concerns to him. It’s been much the opposite.

“All we’ve heard is positive feedback and in some cases, ‘it’s about time’ kind of conversations,” he said.

The care home is aware of the risks the level 90 plan presents.

“We genuinely have concerns as well. We still have a continued obligation to keep our residents safe. The level 90 plan is really just the assurance that 90 per cent of our residents are vaccinated. We’re still not at 100 per cent.”

There are residents who can’t or haven’t gotten vaccinated, he said. There are also staff members and visitors who aren’t fully vaccinated, or who might not be vaccinated at all.

“We have an obligation to care for all of those people,” he said.

“We overlay any new or change in the program with what our responsibilities are in caring for people. We’re always trying to find a balance.”