No answers for isolated care home residents

By Matthew Scott
Most Aucklanders are on their way out of lockdown, but care home residents still don't know when their sentences will end. Photo: Getty Images

With the traffic light system just around the corner for Auckland, hospitality and hairdressers have been given clear guidance on what to expect - but residents of care homes still don’t know when they get to leave lockdown

Last year, Vikashni Moore took a Christmas cake in for residents of the care home where her uncle lives in an effort to spread a little holiday feeling.

This year, no one can tell her if she’ll have to keep her baking for herself.

Most Aucklanders are soon to step out of lockdown, blinking in the sun and ready to pick up their former lives. But as they prepare for a holiday season in which they are free to travel in and out of the city – with only spot checks from police keeping the virus within its confines – people with loved ones in care homes are yet to find out when they can reconnect.

It has been months since Moore and family have been able to visit her sick uncle, and she worries about the effect of this on his physical and mental wellbeing.

Although this week has been full of news about when Aucklanders can finally get a professional to see to their lockdown hairstyles and make plans about hitting the beach over New Year, plans to open up care homes are yet to be announced.

Moore said staff and residents at her uncle’s care home are under a lot of stress without some kind of visitation available, and wonders why socially distanced outdoor visits for fully vaccinated people has not been announced.

“The staff at the care homes have received no information about what’s going to happen,” she said. “They said it’s very hard for them as well.”

Vikashni Moore with her mother and uncle - whom she still doesn't know when she will be able to visit Photo: Supplied

Moore has been looking for answers since the beginning of the month, to weeks of no reply from the Government. Eventually, she received a reply from Deputy Director-General of Health Bridget White sympathising with her family’s situation, but not offering much in the way of concrete answers as to what is going to happen.

“The ministry has had to make tough decisions to try and limit its spread to aged residential care residents who are more susceptible to be seriously unwell if they contract the virus,” White said in her response, encouraging people instead to get in touch with loved ones in care homes virtually.

That’s not always easy or possible with ailing and elderly relatives, and Moore can have a hard time even getting her uncle on the phone sometimes as his mental state has deteriorated.

But along with encouraging Zoom as a replacement for visitation, White also listed the special circumstances in which family visits may be allowed under Level 3, such as if a loved one is critically ill or dying, considered on a case by case basis.

How these conditions will change or if families who don’t meet them will be able to visit their loved ones once Auckland is given the red light on December 3 is still very much up in the air.

A Covid-19 Government response spokesperson said news on how different sectors such as care homes would be able to operate under the traffic light system was forthcoming, but could not give any specific timeframe.

“The Ministry of Health will be releasing detailed individual sector guidance for the new traffic light system in the coming days, including for the aged care sector,” the spokesperson said. “The Government has worked in consultation with different sectors to develop… guidance that is fit for purpose.”

Online guidance from the ministry for aged care providers was last updated in early October, making it potentially out-of-date as the move to the traffic light system approaches.

Dan Ormond, spokesperson for the New Zealand Aged Care Association, said the association was awaiting guidance from the ministry on how to proceed, and hoped to be able to inform care homes on how to proceed soon.

“We are currently working through the options and what the traffic light systems mean for rest homes,” he said. “As you can understand this is complex and we have only recently received much of the information from the Ministry of Health.”

But for Moore and her family, each day that goes by without getting to be with her uncle is a heavy burden.

“I just worry if he passes away before I get the chance to see him again,” she said.

And explaining to him why they can’t be there isn’t easy, either.

“When we moved to Level 3, Step 1, he was so excited that we could come and see him again,” Moore said. “The staff had to explain that we still couldn’t.”

Lockdown has pared back life in aged care in more than one way.

Outings, day programmes, health promotion activities and community support have all been suspended in order to protect this vulnerable segment of society.

Moore said she used to take her uncle for walks around the grounds of his facility, but now he was inside 24/7.

“He’s shut in,” she said. “When I manage to call him, he sounds very depressed. He can’t even go for a walk.”

Studies from around the world have found - quite unsurprisingly - that the social isolation of the pandemic can have a deleterious effect on the health of older people. Of course, exposure to Covid-19 would likely have an even worse one.

But for families like Moore’s, not having any answers about how and when and if things are going to change is the worst part.

“Having an end in sight would help a lot, even for him,” she said. “It’s just the not knowing.”


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