Hinshaw promises to ease 'devastating' impact of isolation in locked-down care facilities


Article content

Health officials plan to ease restrictions in continuing care facilities “very soon” but are still trying to balance risk because some staff and residents are unvaccinated.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw told families on a province-wide town hall Thursday evening that her team is trying to decide if restrictions should be based on an individual’s vaccination status, as many families have requested.

That would require “something akin to a vaccine passport,” said Hinshaw, which the UCP caucus has opposed. Another option would be to lift restrictions based on the general vaccination level in a continuing care facility, or within a certain cohort of society.

But either way, something will change soon, she said. “We need to figure out how to make life worth living in these facilities.”

While most of the province is battling a variant-driven third wave, continuing care facilities have seen outbreaks and case numbers plummet under the protection of an early COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Hinshaw said it’s necessary to ease restrictions to ensure the “devastating” impact of isolation can also be reduced.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

She did not say when she hopes to issue the new regulations.

Roughly 1,300 people joined the hour-long call, which was advertised through continuing care facilities. A second call is scheduled for Friday morning. Hinshaw and Dr. James Silvius, medical lead for Alberta Health Services for seniors care, took questions and asked for comments to help shape the new regulations.

As families registered, they were asked questions about their risk tolerance. Hinshaw said 56 per cent of family members who registered said they would like restrictions to be tied to the vaccination levels in the facility.

The existing guidelines allow for up to two family support people per resident, but gives latitude to individual facility operators to decided whether that can be accommodated. Hinshaw said operators were asked to make their rules after consulting staff, residents and families on their risk tolerance, and are required to have a dispute resolution process for when families don’t agree with the restrictions.

Of Albertans 75 years and older, 80 per cent have received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including nearly 90 per cent of those living in designated supportive living and long-term care facilities. That’s expected to increase because the program to vaccinate homebound seniors only started last week.

The vaccines give good protection against the COVID-19 variant currently dominant in Alberta, but officials still don’t know how they will perform against the variants originating in Brazil and South Africa, Hinshaw said.


Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Silvius said they’re still determining how many staff in continuing care facilities are vaccinated.

Many families said they have not been allowed to support their loved ones in care as much as they would like. One person said they were still restricted to visiting in a glassed-in box, six-feet apart, with a mask and face shield, even though that means the resident with dementia doesn’t recognize them. Another said the visiting opportunities were so limited their care home is booking slots two weeks in advance.

Hinshaw said that’s the type of feedback they want to hear. She said the existing guidelines were crafted with the intent to let dementia patients get a hug and feel touch, but some operators have had a lower risk tolerance.

It’s important to understand the lingering impacts of fear on operators and staff, added Silvius. If an operator went through an outbreak, even at a different site, their staff have seen people die who were like family to them. That’s traumatic. “I’ve come across this more than once and I understand it.”



The Edmonton Journal is focusing on seniors and COVID-19 through Groundwork, a pilot project in engagement journalism. So far, more than 700 older Albertans and their families adding their comments to help shape our coverage. We’re now working on our final series for the project. Sign up for our mailing list to follow along.

More details at edmontonjournal.com/groundwork.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.