(Saanich Peninsula Hospital/Google)

Sheila Mackay used to visit her 91-year-old mother at Saanich Peninsula Hospital twice a week. Since the pandemic began, those visits have been cut down to once a week, often happening only through a window.

Mackay’s mother lives in a four-bed room in the extended care wing of the hospital, which has a total of 144 beds for long term care residents.

On December 1, Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital after one staff member and five patients tested positive for the virus, signalling transmission in the acute care areas of the hospital.

A statement from the health authority says all staff and admitted patients are being tested, and that visitors will be limited.

In Mackay’s case, she says she has not yet been told whether her mother was tested for COVID-19, but is looking forward to a scheduled visit this Friday.

“I’m not sure if the visit will be cancelled. It depends on how staffing changes. I may be able to do a window visit, but I’m waiting to hear from them,” said Mackay in a phone interview with Victoria Buzz.

Mackay received an update on Thursday, confirming that her visit has not been cancelled despite the outbreak, and can take place in person as originally planned.

She believes this is because the Extended Care Unit is separate from the acute care units where COVID-19 transmission has occurred.

“The last visit pre-pandemic we had, my son and I took her out for a drive in the car, we came back, played Bingo with her… There were all sorts of activities for the residents. Now, I’m not sure how much they do socialize. At one point they had closed off the common area.”

During the pandemic, many of the family’s visits took place from the other side of a window.

If both Mackay and her son wanted to see her mom, they would only be allowed to do so during a window visit.

These window visits, with no physical contact allowed, made communication difficult, particularly with a nonagenarian who is hard of hearing and mostly non-verbal. But Mackay says hospital staff always did their best to accommodate her needs.

“When she fractured her hip two months ago, I was allowed to come in and see her in a room by herself,” said Mackay.

“Once, when she wasn’t doing very well, she was low, they called me in and asked me to come in. Another time, we got to bring the dog in because they thought that would make her feel better.”

Now that the hospital has an active COVID-19, Mackay assumes she’ll only able to see her mom through a window again.

Despite hearing little news directly from the hospital and despite mounting anxieties, she believes her mother is well looked after.

“I have a lot of confidence in that facility so I’m sure they will be in touch if there’s a problem. We just have to keep our fingers crossed,” she said.

“It’s just very scary because [people in] long term care homes are so vulnerable… I think now there’s so much of [the virus] in the community that it’s really hard to keep it out.”

Like many other seniors living in long term care, Mackay says she has noticed a considerable decline in her mom’s condition since the start of the pandemic.

This change is consistent with a report from the BC Seniors’ Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, in November which found physical, emotional, and cognitive declines among care home residents during the pandemic.

Mackenzie expressed that many long term care residents are far more concerned about being able to see their loved ones than they are of contracting the pandemic virus.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic but she has deteriorated quite a bit in the 10 months that she’s been here,” said Mackay.

“She was quite mobile when she got here, and she really has deteriorated very rapidly.”

Mackay says she is fortunate that her mother is well cared for and comfortable, which is all she can ask for in a pandemic that has affected so many lives.

Until widespread immunization can be achieved, she hopes that rapid testing of staff and visitors is implemented at care homes, as a measure against future outbreaks.

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