Two South Surrey seniors have launched a national association as a way to give a voice to long-term care home residents and people who live in retirement homes.
Amica White Rock residents Larry O’Brien and Julian Kirstiuk recently founded the federally incorporated Canadian Association for Retirement Home Residents (CARHR).
An association designed to represent long-term care home residents has been needed for years, O’Brien said. However, the trigger point for starting CARHR, he added, was the introduction of a restriction regarding visitors at B.C.’s retirement homes and long-term care facilities.
The current provincial guidelines restrict visits to one designated family member or friend.
O’Brien, who is the CEO of the new association, said the restriction should be adjusted to allow two people to visit at the same time. Allowing only one person, he said, is no different than being told to pick your favourite child.
“If you’ve got three children and 10 grandchildren, only one of those are ever allowed to visit you. That’s a horrible situation,” he said.
One of the first actions of the association was to write an open letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. While the letter commends her “exceptional efforts” to control COVID-19, it takes issue with her position on long-term care home visitors.
“There is one regulation you have endorsed that begs for your re-assessment. The imposition of the very cruel and inhumane order that separates families. You have separated families and forced those seniors living in retirement homes to endure a long period of extreme stress with their isolation,” O’Brien wrote.
“There can be little justification for restricting visiting at retirement homes to one designated visitor.”
Monday afternoon, after announcing six new deaths and 317 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, Dr. Henry said there are currently 13 long-term care homes where there are COVID-19 outbreaks.
Henry said she does not envision the province increasing restrictions on visitors, but acknowledged the challenges that come with loosening them.
“The difficulty we have with long-term care is that it’s not just our person that is in there, it’s everybody who’s at risk,” Dr. Henry said.
B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix said the most common concern his office receives relates to visitor restrictions at long-term care homes.
“We’ve taken a very methodical approach to dealing with it,” Dix said during the news briefing.
“It’s clear that we want, as a goal, to increase the number of visits but we have to put that into context. COVID-19 is obviously unbelievably harmful, potentially harmful, to people living in long-term care.”
The association, O’Brien said, is a vehicle for people to speak out if they’re otherwise afraid to do so.
“The people in these homes, especially the long-term care homes, they either don’t want to speak (or) they’re afraid to speak,” he said. “Most people, even in here, are reluctant to speak because they’re reluctant to offend the manager. Now, in our case, we have a really great manager, but I’m more about the long-term care where all of these people have died tragically.”
O’Brien described Amica as “top of the heap,” however, he said the degree of stress felt by himself and neighbours varies depending on individual circumstances and family relationships.
“Yeah, people are stressed, there’s no doubt about it. But seniors don’t show their stress as much as younger people might. When you’re age 70, 80, 90, you’ve learned to deal with stress to some extent, at least you learn to hide it.”
O’Brien and Kirstiuk are hoping to recruit volunteer board members.
“That’s probably the most important issue we have right now,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to have the association run by children and grandchildren of residents living in long-term care or retirement homes. O’Brien envisions seniors sharing concerns with their family members, which would then be relayed to the association. Those concerns would then be brought to the proper authorities.
“That’s what has been totally missing. We’ve had no way to connect.”
To learn more about the association or to request to join, O’Brien can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 778-966-5261.