VANCOUVER — British Columbia pledged to double its contribution to help support caregivers and seniors as part of the province's emergency COVID-19 response plan on Sunday, as health officials pondered how to reopen long-term care facilities to visits from family members.
The province's seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, said British Columbia is providing an additional $500,000 to help support caregivers and seniors.
This doubles the funding to Family Caregivers of B.C. to $1 million for the year and will help expand toll-free support line hours, emotional supports and health-care navigation, she said.
Family Caregivers of B.C. is a not-for-profit organization that supports people who care for senior citizens.
Most seniors are able to live at home because they have a family caregiver who helps them and this person is usually a spouse, child, grandchild or a friend, Mackenzie said.
"Family caregiving can be intense especially for those who live with the person," she said. "Many family caregivers rely on adult day programs to get respite for a day or two during the week. This resource is not available."
She told caregivers that there are supports available for them, and they are not alone.
"I know the help you really need right now is some relief from your caregiving duties and some time for yourself and that's incredibly challenging to provide for you right now and I am very sorry about that."
Mackenzie also said she and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry are looking at "safely" opening up care homes to some form of visits from family members.
"One of the very important pieces is that family members are, first of all, able to support their loved one in the care home, and secondly are able to be reassured of what is happening in care homes by being the eyes that see and the ears that hear what is going on in the care homes," she said.
On Saturday, Henry said there hadn't been any new outbreaks in long-term, assisted living or acute care facilities over the previous day.
In total, 19 facilities and three acute-care units have active outbreaks, she said, while outbreaks have been declared over at 11 care facilities.
Mackenzie said there are exemptions made for palliative and compassionate care when visiting restrictions are in place.
She will be speaking with care homes to look at that language and make accommodations where they can, she said.
"They could find a way ... for families to be with their loved ones when they are dying," Mackenzie said.
"People going a year or more without seeing their spouse or their adult children, I think is tragic and I think we've got to find a way — we have to do it safely. I think we have to make that effort."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2020.
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press