Seniors in care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic faced a double threat: the risk of catching the virus and the effects of long-term isolation.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of social interaction, especially for those at assisted living facilities – and their loved ones on the outside.
Judy Simkins knows first-hand how hard it can be. Her mother has been living in Fischer Place since 2018 after suffering a stroke and losing her mobility. It was fine in the beginning as her dad moved into 100 Mile House to be closer to his wife and bought a wheelchair accessible van to pick her up and spend the day with her. Simkins would also take her for lunch.
But then the pandemic struck. Like most people, Simkins assumed the virus would run its course in a few weeks and things would return to normal. They started Skyping with her mom five times a week for a few minutes but her mother is “pretty non-verbal so it wasn’t really good,” Simkins said. When Fisher Place decided to cut back on the Skype visits to twice a week, it hit the family hard.
“By this time my parents were both failing, I could see it,” Simkins said. “My mom is 91 and my dad is 88 and married almost 70 years and all the sudden, not being together.”
Her father worried he might never see her wife alive again. Simkins worried her mom would lose her bed if she left the care home for more than 9o days. When they decided to bring her home, at least temporarily, it was the first time Simkins had seen her father smile in months.
“They said we’ll have to arrange transportation and I said no, we have a wheelchair-accessible van. All you need to do is bring her to the door, give her a push and we’ll catch her on the other side,” Simkins said.
The BC Home and Community Care has been so “fabulous” in caring for her mom that Simkins gave up her mother’s space at Fischer Place. While it’s extra work for her, as she does most of the cooking, she said it’s worked well so far and hopes her father’s health holds up.
Despite her parents’ experience, Simkins acknowledges care homes are important, especially as staff often become family to older people with little to no one else in their lives. But she adds it’s “cruel and unusual treatment,” for those who are close to their family and can’t see them in a pandemic.
“We’re locking people away who didn’t commit any crime other than they got old and couldn’t look after themselves anymore and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “I think the government could, instead of dictating what they’re doing … I believe there are other ways to make sure family can get in.”