Winnipeg care homes still letting residents leave, even as they try keeping visitors, COVID-19 out

You probably cannot enter a personal care home in Winnipeg, but you can leave.

Marc Roy was surprised to learn by email that he can take his mother out of the Actionmarguerite care home in St. Vital for a short visit, even as the home prevents almost everybody from setting foot inside.

“It did come as somewhat of a shock that they would let us take our parent out of the care home,” Roy said Saturday.

“And then after that, how do we make sure that it’s safe for her going back, and for the other clients and the other employees?”

Even as personal care homes rocked by COVID-19 outbreaks have clamped down on visitors, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority hasn’t put any stop to residents leaving for short periods.

Instead, the health authority issued new guidelines this week — in advance of the holiday season — for any out-of-home visits, or social leave.

Absences limited to 2 hours

The WRHA says any resident, and the people around them, must wear masks and show no symptoms of COVID-19 or any contagious illness. The resident can visit one location at most, and must be returned to the facility within two hours.

A health authority spokesperson said many residents living in personal care homes have autonomy over their health-care choices.

“If they have the capacity to make their own decisions, we cannot prevent them from choosing to leave [the] facility even if our recommendation would be for them to remain.”

The WRHA says it strongly encourages residents to stay in place, while the province faces a ban on social gatherings.

“That said, residents, like other Manitobans who live alone, are permitted one designated caregiver to visit who resides outside the facility,” the spokesperson said in an email.

“Should that designated caregiver choose to invite their loved one for a short outing, such as a walk outside, with appropriate precautions in place, this may be accommodated in discussions with the facility care team.”

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged care homes and assisted living centres, with more than 70 outbreaks reported in facilities in Manitoba. As of Friday, those outbreaks have resulted in at least 290 deaths and 1,975 cases.

Roy said he isn’t taking his chances. He’s keeping his mother where she is.

“At this point, no,” he said. “It’s not a question of this would be mom’s last Christmas for us or anything of the sort, it’s just a risk factor that we’re trying to minimize on our behalf.”

As COVID-19 case counts soared in Manitoba, personal care homes barred all visitors except for caregivers and in compassionate or end-of-life circumstances. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Actionmarguerite management, which runs three care homes in Winnipeg, wants other families to make the same decision. In an email to families this week, it said short-term visits are “STRONGLY discouraged” and the absences “contravene the public health order,” the latter being incorrect.

The memo added that escorting a resident off the property and bringing them back exposes residents and staff to greater risk during the pandemic.

Instead, Actionmarguerite is asking any absence to last at least 14 days. Upon the resident’s return, they must isolate for two weeks and receive an “asymptomatic [COVID-19] test result.”

An official with Actionmarguerite wasn’t made available Saturday for an interview.

Some calling for quarantine

Other care homes are also asking for a 14-day quarantine if a resident leaves and returns, said Julie Turenne-Maynard, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly.

“They don’t want to be taking the risk of having further outbreaks in their homes,” she said.

She said her association was consulted as the health authority drafted stricter COVID-19 protocols for social passes, for which she’s grateful.

But even if residents can leave their care homes, Turenne-Maynard said, it doesn’t mean they should.

“It’s not for me to say whether it should be allowed or not, but if somebody is going to do that, they need to realize that there are risks involved in it.”

The WRHA is asking for no more than two social passes to be granted in a week. Any arrangement must first be organized with the facility’s care team. The person meeting the resident must be pass a COVID-19 screening before entering the facility. 

A leave is only permitted if the resident lives in an area of a care home where there is no suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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