When an email from the personal care home where Marie Tremblay’s mother lives landed in her inbox with the subject line “holiday season visitation,” her mind started racing.

Tremblay’s mom is a resident at Park Manor Personal Care Home in Transcona, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has infected 73 residents and 37 staff. Twenty-two residents have died due to the disease.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

When an email from the personal care home where Marie Tremblay’s mother lives landed in her inbox with the subject line "holiday season visitation," her mind started racing.

Tremblay’s mom is a resident at Park Manor Personal Care Home in Transcona, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has infected 73 residents and 37 staff. Twenty-two residents have died due to the disease.

"They’ve asked families not to go in there during COVID; it’s bad enough with staff getting it. So, I haven’t gone in to visit her since the lockdown," Tremblay said Friday.

Marie Tremblay (right) is pictured with her mother, who is a resident of Park Manor Care Home in Transcona. Tremblay is questioning the safety of “social passes” for long term care residents over the holiday season.

SUPPLIED

Marie Tremblay (right) is pictured with her mother, who is a resident of Park Manor Care Home in Transcona. Tremblay is questioning the safety of “social passes” for long term care residents over the holiday season.

In a follow-up email to Tremblay, the chief executive officer explained he was obligated to inform families that the regional health authority has set guidelines for out-of-home visits, or a "social pass," despite the home strongly discouraging such visits.

"I thought it was very strange that people could leave there with a special government pass and could go home to their family who are apparently all very healthy — I don’t know how anybody can know this — and then bring it back and make my mom and other people sick," Tremblay said.

"I don’t understand how this could possibly happen."

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said long-term care residents who have autonomy over their own care cannot be prevented from leaving the building. All residents are permitted to have a designated caregiver visit them inside the home.

"Should that designated caregiver choose to invite their loved one for a short outing, such as a walk outside, with appropriate precautions in place, this may be accommodated in discussions with the facility care team," the WRHA spokesperson said.

Download Personal Care Home Social Leave

The authority recommends residents remain at long-term care homes over the holidays, but it acknowledged "some individuals" will choose to go against that direction.

"It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to provide some important parameters and guidance on how to minimize risk, should they make that decision," the spokesperson said.

Requests for a pass can be made at any facility, including those with declared outbreaks (27 in the WRHA), but residents must be in a "green" zone with no suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and families must consult with the home to determine if a leave is safe, the WRHA said.

The region has said residents who qualify for a pass must be able to wear a medical mask for long periods of time and family members must pass COVID-19 screening.

If the resident is going to a family home, all members of the household have to attest to passing the screening. Physical distancing, mask wearing (except when eating and drinking), and regular hand washing is required.

Actionmarguerite chief executive officer Charles Gagné has discouraged family members from pursuing a social pass — which would allow mom or dad to join a holiday dinner — and said few have applied for such a leave.

"To some extent I don’t have the authority to say no, because we’re not a prison," Gagné said. "We try to discourage families from considering short absences of their loved ones by virtue of it exposes not only the facility to a risk upon return (but also) our staff."

If residents are taken out on a social leave, Actionmarguerite has decided the leave should be a minimum of 14 days and upon return, they will be quarantined for two weeks and swabbed for COVID-19.

"It’s trying to walk that fine line whereby my authority is to assess risk and make sure that we keep our staff and residents safe to the best of my ability," Gagné said, adding he expects more visits by essential caregivers over the holidays.

"For many of these families, this could be their last Christmas with mom or dad, or you just never know because of their advanced age," Gagné said. "For the most part, I think the families have come to accept that the risk in long-term care is so high and the effects of a resident case is quite devastating."

"The risk is real and significant and not something that I, as CEO and director of care, looking after the safety and well–being of a frail and vulnerable population, can do with a clear conscience." – Sharon Wilms, CEO and director of care at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg

Sharon Wilms, CEO and director of care at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, said they won't let their residents participate in the social leave program because of the high number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the facility.

"For the few residents in our home who have tested negative, and who are asymptomatic but have still been living within our environment for the past weeks of the outbreak, we would not want to take the risk of having them leave our home, possibly being carriers of the virus, and then, in turn, expose and potentially infect family members (and) vice-versa."

Full statement from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority on social passes:

According to public health orders, all WRHA facilities, including personal care homes, strongly encourage everyone to stay safe at home this holiday season. We have introduced alternatives and are working with families to support them in connecting virtually with their loved ones as much as possible over the holiday, understanding that social leaves/passes outside of the personal care home continue to be to discouraged.

According to public health orders, all WRHA facilities, including personal care homes, strongly encourage everyone to stay safe at home this holiday season. We have introduced alternatives and are working with families to support them in connecting virtually with their loved ones as much as possible over the holiday, understanding that social leaves/passes outside of the personal care home continue to be to discouraged.

That said, residents, like other Manitobans who live alone, are permitted one designated caregiver to visit who resides outside the facility. Should that designated caregiver choose to invite their loved one for a short outing, such as a walk outside, with appropriate precautions in place, this may be accommodated in discussions with the facility care team.

Additionally, many residents living in personal care homes continue to have autonomy over their own decision making and health care choices. If they have the capacity to make their own decisions, we cannot prevent them from choosing to leave the facility even if our recommendation would be for them to remain.

The parameters attached related to social passes are a practice in harm reduction knowing that some individuals will choose to go against our recommendations to remain within the PCH and it is, therefore, incumbent upon us to provide some important parameters and guidance on how to minimize risk should they make that decision. It has been informed by the IP&C guidance document for personal care homes as well: wfp.to/Dzw

"The risk is real and significant and not something that I, as CEO and director of care, looking after the safety and well-being of a frail and vulnerable population, can do with a clear conscience."

Wilms said they hope to instead be able to celebrate Christmas in January and "our tree will remain up until we can celebrate."

While Tremblay’s mother would likely fit the bill to be approved for a leave — so far she has not tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolated — Tremblay says she has not entertained the idea of taking her mom home for a visit.

"My husband and I are going to have Christmas by ourselves, which is fine, if that makes people more safe, then that makes us happy and that’s our joy for the season," she said, adding she’ll do virtual visits with her mom.

"She has all her faculties, so to speak, but she doesn’t really understand why COVID is taking so long," she said. "So it’s hard for her. I couldn’t see her in November and I probably won’t see her in January.

"It’s not just Christmas."

— with files from Kevin Rollason

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

   Read full biography