Monique Mussar calls her 90-year-old mother Rachelle Larocque a social butterfly.
Larocque lives at Pioneer Manor Long Term Care in Greater Sudbury and her seven children had been visiting her frequently.
As of today, however, access by general visitors is on hold — due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility as well as new temporary provincial restrictions for all Ontario long-term care homes.
Effective Dec. 30, long-term care facilities aren’t allowed to let general visitors in, or let residents leave for social reasons.
Rod Phillips, the Ontario minister of long-term care, said the measures are to protect vulnerable residents from the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Mussar is also caregiver for her husband and uncle, who are at facilities other than the one where her mother lives. Mussar has become protective of all of them and their mental health needs over the course of the pandemic.
Given what’s already known about COVID-19, Mussar said she understands the temporary measures are meant to protect vulnerable individuals in long-term care, but questions why visitors have to be excluded.
“Put on the gloves, the mask, the glasses — all of it — still keeping their protection being first and foremost, still insisting that that visitor is vaccinated to the fullest,” she said. “I think those things could be put in place where a resident can still have that person come in and see them physically, not just over a phone or FaceTime.”
Mussar said she is still grateful at least one or two primary caregivers will be able to visit loved ones in long-term care.
Mental health versus physical health
In 2020, during the first few months of the pandemic, Mussar recalled her mother’s mental health suffered greatly because she couldn’t see anyone.
“That prompted my mom to say those words I’ll never forget, which was, ‘I’d rather die than continue living like a caged animal,'” she said.
Mussar added she’s willing to fight hard to prevent another full lockdown in long-term care.
“I’d have my full boxing gloves on and I’m walking into somebody’s office saying you can’t do this because their mental health is as important as their physical health. I know they won’t die from depression, but some of them if they prefer to die over that … it gets scary at that point.”
Mussar is adamant all three of her loved ones are receiving wonderful care by the hard-working staff at the respective facilities where they’re living.
“The staff are genuinely exceptional.”
‘Worst Christmas in 75 years’
The temporary restrictions also include pausing day passes for long-term care residents who may have left for social reasons.
It’s something 75-year-old Sandy MacLennan already knows about and had to deal with last week.
My heart was broken. I haven’t cried in seven years since my wife passed away, but they sure got it out of me this time.– Sandy MacLennan, resident at St. Gabriel Villa
He lives at St. Gabriel Villa in Chelmsford. That facility initiated its own restrictions on Dec. 23, giving notice of just one day that all Christmas plans with families would be cancelled.
“My tears are gone. I don’t get them back. And yes, my heart was broken,” MacLennan said. “I haven’t cried in seven years since my wife passed away. But they sure got it out of me this time.”
He had made plans to leave the home and spend Christmas Day with his two sons and their families. Instead, he saw his grandchildren open their presents from him on FaceTime.
“I lied to them. I told them my nurse was coming to see me and I had to go. I disconnected, and I sat here and I cried in my room by myself,” he said. “It’s hard watching your own family when you can’t be there.
“It’s the worst Christmas I ever had in 75 years.”
St. Gabriel Villa was on lockdown during Christmas 2020, but MacLennan said that was different because it was a provincial and public health directive, and residents knew well in advance.
“They can’t give me back my tears, my broken heart — not only me, there’s people in here that don’t understand Christmas came and went, I’m fighting for their daughters and sons too, who are trying to come in here,” he said.
CBC made multiple attempts to reach St. Gabriel Villa and its parent company, St Joseph’s Continuing Care Centre. Messages were not returned before our deadline.
“I understand that these new, temporary measures will impact residents’ ability to have close contact with many of their friends and family members,” Phillips said during his news conference on Tuesday. “We must remain vigilant against the Omicron variant to protect long-term care residents and staff.”
“We know these measures are difficult for residents and families, but we must stand strong to protect our most vulnerable, which includes residents of long-term care homes,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
The government said it will closely monitor the situation at long-term care homes and continue to adjust measures as necessary to keep residents and staff safe.