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Home care services in Winnipeg will resume in a limited capacity this month, beginning with high-needs clients who cancelled visits early in the pandemic.
More than three months after the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority suspended or reduced bathing, laundry and respite services, health officials say some clients can expect a phone call in the next three weeks, as part of a phased plan.
"We noticed with COVID that we had a number of clients and caregivers who were assessed at a higher level of care… that had been cancelled by them, by clients and caregivers," Jennifer Spencer, acting director of palliative and home care services, said Monday.
"So we are focusing on prioritizing these clients and caregivers to ensure that they are OK."
Lanette Siragusa, Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer, said every region in the province is undergoing the same work in restoring home care services.
"I do just want to remind people: this is not a return to normal," Siragusa said Monday. "Additional precautions will remain in place to protect clients and staff during home visits."
Home care was rolled back in April, with services considered low priority or non-essential — including bathing and household cleaning — reduced or suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spencer said it could take up to three weeks to connect with about 500 high-needs clients who voluntarily cancelled home care services. Once the first phase is complete, officials expect future phases to help an additional 4,200 clients.
"When we looked at the overall picture of all the cancellations that occurred, we felt that those were the highest risk, which is why we focused our outreach on them," Spencer said.
As the province moved into lockdown in the spring — with hospitals, personal care homes and retirement communities implementing no-visitor policies — to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the WRHA quietly rolled back home care.
At the time, health officials cited the need to preserve personal protective equipment and to minimize the risk of exposure to clients.
With laundry and bathing services reduced, family members and backup care providers were expected to fill the gap for those who rely on health-care aides to live safely at home. Some assisted-living communities were also forced to soften no-visitor policies to allow backup care providers onto the property to help with laundry and hygiene.
"I am concerned, because at the end of the day, when you have a shortage of home care, when there isn’t enough to go around for everyone who needs in Manitoba, it’s the husband, kid, spouse or friend that has to step up and make up the difference," said Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
"This will be for a small select group of people. It’s disappointing. We should see the government... make a more robust investment."
One retired Manitoba senior opted for private home care for his 92-year-old father during the COVID-19 pandemic. The man, who didn't wish to be identified, said public home care was offered again, but the system has been too inconsistent.
"During COVID, I was isolating from my father because he was having people coming in and out of his condos. I didn’t see my father for 2 1/2 months," he said.
Home care visits will be prioritized based on needs, according to the WRHA, and some clients will see services return only after those with "significant health needs" or those who no longer have sustainable backup support have services restored.
Spencer said home care recipients who have been assessed at a lower priority level, or who have received ongoing care, will not be part of the first phase of service resumption.
However, the WRHA hopes to offer more frequent home care "as soon as we can."
"That is our intent: to move forward with connecting with all of our clients," Spencer said. "We do need to, first of all, continue to move slowly and in increments in terms our ramping up, which is consistent with what’s been happening with the other phases."
Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault said home care support workers and aides have been pulled away from clients to assist with cleaning in primary care clinics, COVID-19 screening at hospitals and testing sites and to wash medical gowns. Support workers have also been sitting "in-house" at Access centres or in their cars without an assignment.
Boissonneault said Monday home care workers must have sufficient personal protective equipment as service resumes, and criticized a one-mask-per-shift rule staff must follow.
"Staff and clients are the most vulnerable people, who need to be safe," she said.
Updated on Monday, July 6, 2020 at 7:18 PM CDT: Full write through.
July 7, 2020 at 8:11 AM: Corrects typo
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