Care homes impose Christmas restrictions due to flu season

George and Gloria Belliveau are excited to enjoy their first Christmas dinner with family in two years — but many Winnipeg seniors won’t be as fortunate.

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George and Gloria Belliveau are excited to enjoy their first Christmas dinner with family in two years — but many Winnipeg seniors won’t be as fortunate.

Administrators of many personal care homes have decided to prevent residents from leaving to attend holiday dinners, limit the number of visitors, or have guests wear masks every minute, so they cannot eat or drink.

The Belliveaus, who live in the Golden Door Geriatric Centre on Pembina Highway, were set to stay inside their home and forgo a family gathering.

Monique Belliveau-Barbour said her parents weren’t going to be allowed out for a four hour, pre-Christmas celebration on Saturday, which the family had planned for weeks, until the Free Press called the care facility. The care home then advised the family, to let them know they would make an exception.

It did not return the Free Press’s call.

“Thank you so much for making the Belliveau Christmas complete,” she said on Friday.

Belliveau-Barbour had been upset about the rule, which they were told about in an email Friday morning.

“We have now entered the cold and flu season, which also includes COVID-19, and outbreaks are common at this time of year,” the email said.

“Due to this, short stay absences and social leaves are on hold until the outbreak in the community stabilizes. This is for the safety of all residents who live in our home.”

“It’s like my parents are prisoners there.”–Monique Belliveau-Barbour

Belliveau-Barbour said when she called the facility, she was told her parents could still go out before the end of the day on Friday, and they could have gone out earlier this week or last weekend, just not for the foreseeable future.

She told Golden all of her family members have been vaccinated for both the flu and COVID; a nephew who flew in earlier has been isolating for days; and the family had hired a wheelchair taxi for the ride to and from the care home.

“They said why didn’t you plan something earlier?” she said, adding they were also told the entire family could visit her parents at the facility, but only two at a time.

“For us to celebrate without them, knowing they are there and getting nothing, would be terrible. This could be our last Christmas together. My mother is not sick, but she has heart failure.

“It’s like my parents are prisoners there.”

Julie Turenne, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly, said Golden Door is not the only one with strict rules during the holidays.

“There will be a lot of sad faces this Christmas,” Turenne said.

“I know most of the (care homes) are going that route because the more you lock down your residents to people, the less risk there will be. We know with Christmas there is a lot of hugging and kissing.

“It is very disappointing for a lot of people. I know there will be a lot of upset families.”

Currently, 11 personal care homes and 11 hospital units have outbreaks of COVID-19, while 17 personal care homes have declared respiratory outbreaks. As well, a unit in the Middlechurch Home of Winnipeg has an outbreak of scabies, and Oakview Place has a gastroenteritis outbreak.

“There will be a lot of sad faces this Christmas.”–Julie Turenne, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly

There are no outbreaks at the Golden Door.

Turenne said it is especially tough because this is the third Christmas during the pandemic and care homes are still forced to impose restrictions.

She said while some care homes will keep all residents inside, others will allow visitors as long as they stay inside the resident’s room. Some will let more people in to visit as long as they stay in a visiting room.

“That way, they will at least celebrate Christmas together.”

Sherry Heppner, of the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, said while they will let residents go out with family during the holidays, many have chosen to keep them in the care home.

“The given is, if you are taking mom, dad, grandparents out or are visiting at the home, please be healthy,” she said. “If you are sick, stay away until you are well.”

Heppner said if family members deliver holiday dinner for their loved ones, they won’t be able to eat with them.

“We had to put a damper on those plans as masks must remain on at all times,” she said.

“Although mom or dad may eat or drink, you, the visitor, may only visit. No eating or drinking as that would involve the removal of the mask.”

As for Belliveau-Barbour, she’s happy she’ll celebrate a family Christmas together, even though it means there will be restrictions afterwards.

“My parents will have to isolate with no visitors for 14 days,” she said.

“We’ll have window visits, but that’s OK because we have them for Christmas.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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