P.A. woman joins Meili in calling for increased support for seniors during pandemic

Wendy Fyrk said her dad is losing memory and needs help to take his medication twice a day. (Wendy Fyrk/Submitted)

A Prince Albert woman joined Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili on Tuesday to voice the need for increased seniors support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendy Fyrk said her 88-year-old dad resides at Points West Living in Prince Albert, previously Caleb Village, which is a private independent living facility. Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) Home Care staff were helping her dad take his medication twice a day.

“I was contacted yesterday (Monday) by Home Care saying that they wanted to pull those services because they needed to use their resources elsewhere during this pandemic,” said Fyrk.

As a result, she explained, they’re recommending she takes care of her father, either by having him live with her or by coming into the facility herself. Fyrk expressed concern that allowing visitors to come and go from the building puts already vulnerable seniors at more risk.

“It’s almost like ‘Well, we can let some of the seniors just go,” she said.

“That’s pretty much how I’m feeling — ‘Well, they’re older, they’ve lived their life.’”

Fyrk said on Tuesday morning, Home Care said they would probably have to pull the staff in a week’s time.

“We have some time to try and figure out an alternate plan if we have to. I’m hoping it’s not going to come to that,” she said.

“We’re all kind of scrambling to try and figure out what the best course of action would be.”

“The core principle is we need to be protecting seniors, not exposing them and their fellow residents to people coming in from outside community and we need a consistent message from the government in terms of their commitment to protecting seniors,” emphasized Meili.

He said the provincial government needs to provide clarity on the expectations of physical distancing in seniors living facilities. More resources need to go into those sectors, he said, like personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said the public has seen how seniors can be affected by COVID-19 from multiple deaths in nursing homes in BC and Ontario: “This is the number one fear.”

But it extends beyond their physical health, said Meili.

“Loneliness is hard on older folks at any time, but especially at a time where we’re under more stress, where there’s a big crisis going on. They can feel really disconnected,” he said.

Wendy Lemaigre, general manager at Points West Living, confirmed that she received a notice from the SHA’s Home Care program manager on Mar. 25. It said they would be assessing their services as they redeploy staff in the facility to other parts of the health care system.

She said Points West Living has been under visitor restrictions since Mar. 16. The facility’s website says it’s allowing one “essential visitor” per resident, which is screened at the door for COVID-19, other than during end-of-life care.

“We are concerned with the complete withdrawal of home care services and the impact on our residents of opening up the home to additional visitors and the increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Lemaigre.

“We are also concerned with nursing services being withdrawn from Home Care as our facility does not have nursing on staff.”

She said she understands that all services are needing to adapt, but hoped they could have a discussion on finding a solution rather than withdrawing services entirely.

The SHA said the issue is part of its “system-preparedness planning” for COVID-19.

“These specific actions are part of the work underway by the SHA as a health service provider to ensure all essential resources are available as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates,” read an SHA statement.

Public health has ordered that visitors are not allowed in any SHA-operated facilities, except for compassionate reasons. However, Points West Living is independent and not operated by the SHA.

“Clients in the independent living facility are considered to be the same as any client in the community living in their own home when it comes to the application of priority services and seeking family support,” the SHA said.

— with Regina Leader-Post files from Arthur White-Crummey