Family members who provide essential care to residents in personal care homes will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before visiting loved ones after months of being permitted to enter homes unrestricted.

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Family members who provide essential care to residents in personal care homes will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before visiting loved ones after months of being permitted to enter homes unrestricted.

Care home operators were told Thursday in a meeting with Shared Health officials that visitation policies would be changed soon to require designated family caregivers to be fully vaccinated, said Jan Legeros, executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba.

"That’s something that our association and the care homes have been advocating for, for quite some time, and it’s been a very big concern of ours, because of course it’s the one gap in the process," Legeros said.

"Everyone else needs to be vaccinated or tested, and here we are having folks come in that don’t require either of those restrictions."

Last fall, when lockdowns restricted general visitation at homes and COVID-19 hurt staffing levels, family caregivers were permitted to enter homes to provide essential care support with meals, hygiene and assistance in decision-making.

Current guidelines do not require family caregivers to provide proof of vaccination; however, only fully vaccinated general visitors can visit indoors with fully vaccinated residents in their rooms.

Unvaccinated family caregivers are not required to show proof of a negative rapid COVID-19 test to enter homes, unlike unvaccinated staff and volunteers, who must take regular tests under current public health orders, Legeros said.

Larry Baillie with a picture of his father Glen, who died from COVID while a resident of Maples Personal Care Home. The new rules are long overdue, he says. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Larry Baillie with a picture of his father Glen, who died from COVID while a resident of Maples Personal Care Home. The new rules are long overdue, he says. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"COVID has to be carried. It can’t walk, so it travels with you, so our primary concern was of course bringing COVID into the building. We believed that the seniors in care were very vulnerable. We really wanted to just safeguard their care in every way possible," she said.

Shared Health would not confirm Thursday that it plans to introduce a vaccination requirement for family caregivers.

"However, we are considering additional protections and precautions that can be put in place that are guided by clinical advice and public health information as COVID-19 activity once again rises in the community," a spokesman for Shared Health said in a statement to the Free Press.

"Visitor guidelines have regularly been updated throughout the pandemic as information and evidence has evolved and as levels of COVID-19 activity in the community have fluctuated."

It was unclear whether Shared Heath would extend the testing accommodation for unvaccinated care home staff to family caregivers, Legeros said.

"It would be quite onerous to try to accommodate that, but we’ll wait and see what the orders actually say," she said.

Vaccination requirements for anyone entering a nursing home are long overdue, said Families Voices Task Force member Larry Baillie.

"They haven’t listened to the families. You tell me unvaccinated people can go, you tell me that they don’t have to be tested, and I tell you they’re just waiting for a problem," said Baillie, 62.

Had vaccines been available when his Larry Baillie's father was in care and unvaccinated visitors were permitted into Maples, he would have been incensed. Dozens of residents at the home died before vaccines were created. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Had vaccines been available when his Larry Baillie's father was in care and unvaccinated visitors were permitted into Maples, he would have been incensed. Dozens of residents at the home died before vaccines were created. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Families Voices is a coalition of Manitobans with loved ones in long-term care formed in the wake of the Maples Personal Care Home COVID-19 outbreak.

Baillie’s father Glen was a resident at Maples and died last fall from COVID-19 after catching the virus during the deadliest care home outbreak in the province.

Had vaccines been available when his father was in care and unvaccinated visitors were permitted into Maples, Baillie said he would have been incensed.

"Why are vaccination rules out there for sporting events and that sort of stuff when we know seniors are the most vulnerable for getting sick and most vulnerable for the variant," he said. "Why aren’t we protecting the seniors?"

At least a dozen care home operators in Winnipeg and some in rural Manitoba have issued their own policies requiring vaccination for everyone who enters the building and have been met with little resistance, Legeros said.

Operators have indicated that staff levels are such that the support provided by the designated family caregivers could be covered should family members be restricted due to their vaccination status, Legeros noted.

The role of designated family caregivers throughout the pandemic has been appreciated, but now that vaccines are available, they should be subject to the same rules as all other visitors, she added.

"Whether they’re a volunteer or a designated family caregiver, or a general visitor, they should all be vaccinated or tested," Legeros said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.