For the first time in 18 months, Frank Stanislow can leave his Halifax long-term care home and have lunch with his family, and for the retired Canadian Armed Forces veteran it feels like he’s broken out of a pandemic prison.
“Oh, it’s been hell at times when you’re locked into that building there,” said Stanislow, 87, who lives at Halifax’s Camp Hill retirement home.
“It feels good to be out. I feel like I was locked in jail.”
Wednesday was a milestone for the Stanislow family, said his daughter and designated caregiver, Stefanie.
“Being able to get dad out to a restaurant and a sit down for lunch and do a normal everyday activity for a change is pretty special,” she said.
“It will be the first time my sister (Terry) has been able to spend time with dad as well because of course visitors haven’t been allowed in the facility.”
The reunion for the family, like others with loved ones in long-term care homes, was a long time coming.
“We had a lovely time together and a really nice chat,” said Terry Stanislow, following lunch. “It was just like the old days and it was fantastic for him as it’s been a long time. It was really wonderful to get out with him.”
Phase 4 of Nova Scotia’s reopening plan has the province allowing long-term care residents to leave the facility for indoor and outdoor visits, while fully vaccinated residents can have visitors in their rooms and visit their family’s homes and spend the night.
Some families calling on province to change restrictions regarding long-term care facilities
But not all long-term care homes are on board with the new protocols.
Ashley Ward’s father lives in a long-term care facility in Cape Breton and she says the new protocols and directives from the government have not yet been implemented at the home.
“For me, nothing has changed today,” said Ward. “What I’ve been told (previously) is they don’t have the public health directives yet or their directives are different from other homes.”
The province’s top doctor says public health takes the lead when it comes to developing and delivering guidance documents and health protocols to licensed long-term care facilities but ultimately they are “independent operators.”
“So if they are not following the guidance, I would say that they have to then provide a rationale as to why they are not following the public health guidance that is developed for all of the long-term care sector,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, at Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.
For families like Ward’s, it can mean having to lobby for more time with loved ones and more stress.
“I’m going to start calling today and I’m going to call the visitation staff to see if they are aware of any changes,” said Ward. “Then I’m going to have to phone the director, then I may have to go to the director of resident care to try to get information.”
Terry and Stefanie Stanislow have been advocating for more public transparency and more freedoms set out for long-term care residents.
Their advocacy has continued since the pandemic emerged and like Ward, have been calling for all families and residents to have the same freedoms and for all facilities to abide by the same protocols.
The Stanislow sisters created a Facebook group called “Reunite Families of Long-Term-Care Residents,” which has nearly 800 members and is meant as a support group for families with loved ones in homes and a place to raise issues that play out in the long-term care sector.
Both sisters say they want to be a voice for others who fear they can’t speak out against homes not abiding by the new protocols for fear of reprisal from the administration of the long-term care homes.
“We’re lucky that dad is in a government facility that is abiding by the lifting of the restrictions,” said Stefanie.
“But the homes that aren’t doing that, those people are still suffering.”