Nova Scotia urges long-term care homes to bar visitors again due to COVID-19

Province says residents can have 2 designated caregivers, but few homes have staffing to screen them

Many people who live in long-term care homes in Nova Scotia won’t be able to see friends or family who are not designated caregivers until at least Jan. 17. (The Associated Press)

Nova Scotia is recommending long-term care homes close to visitors Friday to try and limit the spread of COVID-19.

The province said residents should instead be allowed two designated caregivers, up from one, who must visit at separate times.

But an organization that represents 77 nursing homes in the province said many facilities don’t have enough staff to screen designated caregivers for COVID-19 and admit them.

Michele Lowe, the executive director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, said many facilities stopped letting visitors in before Christmas and over the break.

“Being able to welcome back our two designated caregivers versus the one, that’s really significant. We know the impact of keeping folks in isolation, and our folks deserve better,” Lowe said Thursday.

Screening and testing

But she said that will only happen if the short-staffed care homes can find staff to monitor incoming caregivers.

“Your focus is on the care and well-being of residents. And unfortunately it means you don’t have staff who can sit at the door and do this screening protocol and the testing, because that does take a lot of resources,” she said.

Restrictions placed on long-term care homes have changed over the course of the pandemic, as COVID-19 case counts have risen and fallen. Visitors were barred during the first wave in 2020.

The Department of Seniors and Long-Term Care said this week it is “strongly recommending” that long-term care facilities close to visitors Friday at 6 a.m. The government said it will consider letting visitors back in on Jan. 17.

“Two designated caregivers per resident should still be allowed to visit so they can provide physical and mental support,” the department said.

The province also said Thursday it may allow “some flexibility” on the isolation periods required for long-term care workers who are close contacts but have no symptoms of COVID-19.

Those staff may be allowed to return to work before the standard 10-day isolation period has ended, but that is based on a risk assessment at the facility where they work, and in consultation with public health and occupational health and safety teams.

“Frequent testing is required and there are extra precautions in place within long-term care facilities to prevent transmission within this vulnerable population,” said a statement.

‘Isolation leads to depression’

Joyce D’Entremont, the CEO of Mountains and Meadows Care Group, which has facilities in Bridgetown and Yarmouth, said her care homes have already stopped letting in visitors.

In normal times, up to 100 people a day will visit loved ones. The Yarmouth facility, Harbourside Lodge, has had one staff member and one resident test positive for COVID-19.

She said the homes are already struggling to find staffing, as so many people are isolating after a close-contact notice.

“It’s certainly causing even more of the challenges that we were already having,” she said.

She supports the changes recommended by the province, as it eases the burden on staff to screen visitors.

“Seeing their families is a big part of their life here and their mental health. Isolation leads to depression,” she said. “We have to be very careful that we balance risk, with the risk of our residents getting sick.”

She said many homes are short-staffed as it is, and won’t be able to spare someone to screen designated caregivers.