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Letter: Residents of long-term care homes need their caregivers now

It is time to rethink the role of ‘caregiver,’ says Ontario North-Family Council Network
long-term care nursing home elderly stock

The COVID pandemic has taught us many lessons about weaknesses in health care around the world, in Canada, as well as in our local communities. 

It is time to start using those lessons to better deal with what promises to be a continuing challenge. No lessons have been more crucial and hard won than those that affect the residents living in Long-Term Care (LTC) homes. 

We initially locked down the homes as the virus quickly spread — and rightly so. 

But the lockdown was too prolonged, and the toll has had a devastating effect on many residents. 

It appears that officials approached the “duty to protect” as in conflict with the “duty to care,” when in fact both should work together seamlessly. This is the time to rethink the role and importance of a designated family “caregiver” in the essential care of LTC residents. 

The need for regular comfort and emotional support from family members and loved ones must not be underestimated. It is clear that family caregivers play an important role in the health of their loved ones, as affirmed by many health-care organizations and professionals, including the Canadian Geriatrics Society. 

However, the fear of more outbreaks in LTC homes, together with mixed and inconsistent messages from the government, continues to delay the needed entrance of family members into the homes to provide the support that is so essential to maintain their loved one’s mental and physical health. 

Inclusion of a designated family caregiver during this period of an older and vulnerable adult’s life should be prioritized and can be facilitated with basic infection control training and instruction on safe use of protective equipment. 

It should be a simple matter for homes and/or communities to set up training to expedite safe, necessary family presence in homes. This needs to be seriously considered, especially where there are no outbreaks in LTC homes. 

Family members must be acknowledged as not just casual visitors, but as essential caregivers who must be given access to their loved ones now

Nancy Johnson and Terry Martyn, Ontario North-Family Council Network, Sudbury