Residents in long-term care and assisted-living facilities will soon be able to have visitors on a limited basis, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Tuesday.
To start, residents will be allowed to have a single designated visitor come the facility for visits in a designated indoor or outdoor visiting area, Henry said. Residents with mobility issues may be allowed to have visitors in their rooms, she added.
Each facility will be required to prepare a safety plan and comply with provincial guidelines.
No visitors will be allowed at any facility with an active outbreak of COVID-19.
"It may take some facilities a week or 10 days to get all the things in place," Henry said. "Of course, we're all a little anxious because we know what can happen if we don't get it right. Despite our efforts, families have lost mothers, fathers, grandparents."
No visitors have been allowed at long-term care and assisted-living facilities since March.
Facilities will be required to have designated staff to screen all visitors, and visitors will be required to wear a mask, she said. Visits will have be booked in advance so that facilities can spread out the number of visitors at any one time.
Personal service providers like hairdressers will also be allowed to serve clients in long-term facilities again, Henry said. However, each service provider will be required to have a safety plan before they can resume offering services.
Henry urged residents of long-term care to only leave the facility for essential trips, and for assisted-living residents to always follow physical distancing and other safety measures when they leave the facility.
"This has been a difficult time, being separated from the ones you love," Henry said. "For those suffering from dementia, it can be a confusing and difficult time."
Henry said her office will be monitoring the situation and consulting with the sector, and may update her orders in time.
"We start small, as safe as we can, then expand slowly as we learn," she said. "Our hope and our plan for all our restart things is it will keep us going over the next 12 months or as long as this lasts."
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced $160 million in funding for the province's 680 long-term care homes to hire up to three full-time staff each to organized and monitor visits to the facilities. In addition, Dix announced $26.5 million to help facilities cover the costs of infection-control and other measures that were taken in response to the pandemic.
"We have lost almost 100 people in long-term care," Dix said. "Regardless of how people in other places do, that is still too many."
The decision to allow the approximately 32,000 British Columbians who live in long-term care to have visitors during a pandemic was one of the hardest of his career, Dix said.
"We know what it means to them. It will allow them to live better in this time of pandemic."
ALLOWING VISITORS WILL TAKE TIME, NORTHERN HEALTH SAYS
Northern Health spokesperson Eryn Collins said it will take time to work out what the provincial announcement means for the health authority's 25 long-term care facilities.
"I think at this point people are obviously very excited about this," Collins said. "(But) people shouldn't be heading to their local facility to visit their loved ones right at this moment."
Each facility will require a written plan to comply with the provincial guidelines, and will have to look at the staffing and other issues within the facility, she said.
What the timeline looks like will differ from facility to facility, but Northern Health will be working to allow visitors to return in a way that is safe, Collins said.
Details about how and when visitors will be allowed will be communicated at the facility level and to the public.
"The work to return to allowing visitors has been ongoing since we restricted them," she said. "(But) our facilities are going to need some time to make the changes that are necessary and required."