Sask. premier offers hope for Christmas care home visits. A lonely resident says she’d rather not risk it

Judy Havers says she used to like going outside, getting coffee at Boston Pizza, watching animals in the park and, most of all, feeding the feral cats she’s nourished and taken comfort from for the last six years. 

That’s all out of reach now. 

Havers, 60, is a resident of Providence Place, a Moose Jaw care home dealing with one of the many COVID-19 outbreaks hitting Saskatchewan’s extended care homes.

Havers is not infected, unlike four other residents and seven staff confirmed to have tested positive at the home, according to a statement management gave CBC News six days ago.  

“But we’re all under lockdown,” Havers said over the phone Wednesday from her single room, where she’s been largely cooped up in her wheelchair for days.

The isolation imposed by COVID-19 has taken a toll on her mental health, Havers says — quickened her already short temper, fed her depression, even given her the shakes because of how powerless she feels. 

“Sometimes I get really lonely because there isn’t anybody to talk to,” she said. “I find it very, very constricting being in the room all the time. 

“I miss going outside.” 

Being isolated in her room means Judy Havers can’t check up on her pride and joy: the feral cats like Motzi she and others have taken care of for years. ‘They have such a calming influence on me,’ Havers said. (Submitted by Judy Havers)

‘Zero chance’ of lower numbers by Christmas: prof

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe offered a ray of hope for care home residents and their families. 

Moe said people might be able to visit loved ones in care homes for two or three days during the holiday season, provided the rate of COVID-19 transmission decreases over the next two weeks and depending on the advice he receives from Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer.

“This is the goal,” Moe said of Christmas visits, before adding another caveat. “People need to adhere to the measures that are in place [now].”

Moe said care-home staff face the risk of transmission every day they go to work, but that they lessen that risk by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and being cautious.

“The same may be true, potentially, for families that would want to visit in a long-term care,” Moe said.

He pointed to Quebec, where “there’s going to be a little bit of a different standard so that families would be able to come together for those few days.”

Health Minister Paul Merriman, left, has voiced skepticism about allowing people who tested negative to visit their loved ones in care homes. Premier Scott Moe said only a day later that if the COVID-19 numbers go in the right direction, families could potentially visit long-term care homes during the Christmas holidays. (CBC)

Kyle Anderson, an assistant professor in the college of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said it took Quebec about six weeks from the implementation of its new restrictions to start seeing active case numbers go down.

“There is zero chance Saskatchewan will have lower active case numbers on Christmas than we are right now, and right now we have seniors dying daily,” he said.

“We need to commit to these measures, not look for ways to circumvent them.”

Anderson has been closely tracking the daily number of new COVID-19 cases. He created a video that shows the surge in cases among Saskatchewan seniors beginning in mid-November — right around the time outbreaks in care homes began, he said. 

“We need to keep our vulnerable safe for the next three or four months,” Anderson said. 

“This might seem like too much to ask of us, and ask of them, after such a hard year, but we do the hard things now so we can enjoy the bountiful harvest at the end of the season. This is the Saskatchewan way.”

‘I’m afraid it will spread’

At Providence Place in Moose Jaw, Havers said that while it would be nice to see someone in person, she’s wary of allowing visits again. She said some residents at her care home are worried about further COVID-19 spread.

“If it was too much of a risk for us, I’d just as soon not see anybody and stay safe,” she said of Christmas visits. “I have some pre-existing conditions and I’m just really afraid of getting COVID in here. I’m afraid it will spread like it did in those homes back east.”

The day before Moe’s comments, Health Minister Paul Merriman said people should plan to see their loved ones at Christmas. It’s just a matter of whether they’ll do that in person or virtually, he said. 

Merriman was asked if family members who test negative might be allowed to visit homes.

“The problem with a negative test is somebody can be negative, tested in the morning and could have picked it up on the way,” he said. “We want to make sure that the individuals in that home are safe.”

If it was too much of a risk for us, I’d just as soon not see anybody and stay safe.– Judy Havers

On Thursday, Dr. Shahab said that every time the province relaxes restrictions, “you see a bit of a rebound” in cases.

He said the province has seen outbreaks in many different settings, but that those in long-term care homes are the most “high risk out of all the outbreaks that we’re seeing in terms of impact on residents and staff and families.” 

Outings restricted for last 2 weeks

Health officials declared an outbreak at Providence Place on Nov. 18, according to an update sent to families that day. 

The day before, the Ministry of Health announced it was halting visits to all long-term care homes except for people visiting patients in end-of-life care. Providence Place said at the same time it was suspending all outings for its residents, a decision it would revisit in four weeks.

Havers said she gets some fresh air because she still goes to a hospital three days a week for dialysis. She keeps in touch with a sister living in Nanaimo, B.C., via texts and FaceTime.

But it’s hard watching other people face the full brunt of restrictions, she said. 

This is the view outside Judy Havers’ room, where she’s been cooped up for days, aside from three trips a week to a hospital for dialysis treatment. ‘From one institution to another institution,’ she said. (Submitted by Judy Havers)

“You see the residents [whose] family was here every day … giving them extra attention, washing them, talking to them, bringing them treats, whatever,” she said. 

“Now, all of a sudden, even if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s or something, I think they still realize that they’re alone. It’s not their fault, but I don’t think they understand that.”

On Tuesday, Moe was asked why he would get people’s hopes up about visits given recent modelling from the Saskatchewan Health Authority that projects a continued rise in COVID-19 cases.

“It may not be possible,” Moe said. “But is it my place to provide hope and to provide opportunity, to provide some targets for the people of the province to work towards between now and December the 25th? 

“I think it is.”

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