Families hold breath, anxiously await holiday gathering guidelines for seniors in long-term care

Jennifer Heywood’s mother is 94 and trying to bounce back from a recent bout with COVID-19.

Her adult children are anxious to know if they will be able celebrate Christmas as a family, in person — possibly for the last time.

“I would like very much just to see her,” Heywood said, fighting back tears. “I’m sorry. I would just like to see her.”

The province is expected to announce guidelines this week for holiday gatherings involving seniors living in long-term care homes.

Making matters more complicated, Heywood lives in Toronto. Her bags are packed. But she’s hoping the spread of COVID-19 will have stabilized enough in Quebec and Ontario to allow her to come to Montreal.

Her mother contracted the virus last month at the Vigi Reine-Élizabeth in NDG, and it’s taken a physical toll on her, according to Heywood.

Heywood and her siblings weren’t even sure their mother would make it to Christmas.

Two of her siblings visit their mother regularly, but never at the same time. Heywood is hoping that will change, and bring much needed joy to the elderly patient.

“Christmas is a big deal to Mum,” Heywood said. “She always celebrated it joyously. She always made it beautiful for us. So we’ve always wanted to make it beautiful for her when she’s been in a hospital bed.”

The province is expected to provide guidelines for holiday gatherings involving people living in long-term care homes. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Risk of outbreaks ‘always hanging over our heads’

Quebecers are being allowed two get-togethers with a maximum of 10 people in each between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27.

But there’s a quid pro quo.

Premier François Legault has asked people to self-isolate in the week leading up to that four-day window and for a week following it. He calls it a “moral contract.”

Dr. Élise Boulanger, who works at CHSLD Father Dowd, says there is a need for balance when it comes to letting residents celebrate the holidays with family.

“There is a great proportion [of residents] that are at the end of their life, and this Christmas may be every important for them,” said Boulanger. 

For the most part, she believes people who visit loved ones in long-term care homes are careful about not bringing the virus into the facility, but she stresses the importance of ditching large family gatherings prior to visiting a loved one. 

“It’s always a risk, and it’s happening. You still have some outbreaks that are happening in the centres, right now,” said Boulanger. “It’s always a concern. It feels like it’s always hanging over our heads.”

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