For months during the pandemic, Arlene Fages could only see her husband and one of her daughters at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre because of COVID-19 visitor restrictions at personal care homes.
But in recent weeks, Fages has not only been able to see her daughter there, but now also her daughter from Vancouver, other family members, and even just good friends thanks to changes in the visiting restrictions put in place by Shared Health last month.
"It's wonderful," said Mel, Fages's husband of 61 years.
"The daughter who lives in Vancouver couldn't come here for a long time because of restrictions, and even when she could, she wouldn't have been allowed to see her mother, except through a window. So we have Skyped on the iPad on a regular basis. Now she can come have a visit outside and my son-in-law can visit and play the guitar for my wife.
"A visit is a lot different when she can sit out there and hold her mother's hand."
The loosening of visitation restrictions was one of the changes Shared Health made on June 18, which included allowing general visitors, not just essential or designated family caregivers, to be able to go to personal care homes as long as they showed proof they were fully vaccinated from COVID-19. General visitors are family or friends who visit for social reasons, not to look after the resident.
The visitation guidelines allow up to two fully vaccinated visitors in the a resident's suite and outdoor visits with up to four fully vaccinated visitors. An outdoor visit can only be on the care home's property or nearby — visits back home are not allowed yet.
Essential caregivers are still able to go to personal care homes without showing proof of vaccination.
To make it easier for families to distance themselves from other families, the Simkin Centre has painted blue visitation circles on the pavement in its enclosed courtyard and on the sidewalk outside, said CEO Laurie Cerqueti.
"It has been really good," said Cerqueti of the new visitation rules. "There are people who haven't been able to see their loved one for some time, including grandchildren they may never have met.
"It has been quite a wonderful thing. We're not quite out of the woods yet, we still have mask rules, but it has been a hard year-and-a-half and this is looking a lot better."
The change in visitation is a step in the right direction after months of things going the wrong way, said Sherry Heppner, development co-ordinator at the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg in Fort Rouge.
"It's so nice to have a bit of normalcy," said Heppner.
"The residents are all smiling. Our biggest worry now is heat stroke, but we have to take advantage of these nice days."
Visitors can see residents outside on their property, or take them on a walk in the neighbourhood, Heppner said.
For the time being, the front door of the home will be locked so people coming in can be screened for the virus before entering, she said.
"We can't be complacent, the variant is out there, but this is so nice."
Mel Fages said his wife lives with Alzheimer's disease and moved into the Simkin Centre in September so having visits with more people is good for her.
COVID restrictions meant his sister couldn't visit his wife because her husband was in another part of the Simkin Centre, but now they can, he said.
"We are able to be outside as a family. There's no question this is so much better."
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.