Quebec seniors residences are adapting to pandemic realities

The pandemic has compelled smaller private senior residences to make significant changes as they comply with government regulations to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks while continuing to provide services in a comfortable and caring environment.

In the latest and most important change, all visits to senior residences have been cancelled as part of new restrictive measures imposed by Quebec to prevent the virus from spreading in three “red zones” of Montreal, Quebec City, and Chaudières-Appalaches region, south of the provincial capital.

Visits to gardens and other outdoor areas are being discouraged, affecting both family members and musical groups such as Senior Staff whose planned show outside Manoir Westmount was cancelled.

Other measures have been taken by some residences on their own. For example, dining rooms in some residences are not fully opened and last month the Quebec government asked that all residents wear a mask in common areas, noted Bonnie Sandler, a housing consultant for seniors who is following the changes.

“In general, more attention is being paid to where staff are working, to avoid caregivers working in more than one home,” Sandler said, since that was among the reasons why the virus spread so rapidly in long-term care homes in Quebec.

Social distancing among residents is a problem. Smaller residences may not have the space to separate residents when they are in dining rooms and lounges.

“Some residences have opened dining rooms for lunch, but some residents are not going – they’re nervous and afraid, and staying in their apartment,” Sandler noted.

“It can mean bringing services to the room. There may be cleanliness and staffing issues. Sometimes people need to be supervised when they are eating.

“It can’t be a free-for-all anymore, especially now that we’re in the midst of a second wave,” Sandler said.

“It’s really up to each residence, and people looking for residences now have to ask all the COVID questions. As shoppers for residences, people have become wiser in what they’re asking.”

New restrictions can mean that some seniors spend more time alone in their apartment or room, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and stress.

“Now that winter’s coming, it’s a whole different ballgame. You’re not meeting people outside and you can’t go to the garden. We’re not going to dress seniors up in snowsuits and have them meet family outside!”

Simply establishing rules such as the recent order that residents must wear masks in common areas of residences, will not be effective unless caregivers ensure that the masks are worn properly, she said.

When viewing potential residences, Sandler suggests asking managers about their COVID
record and prevention plans.

“What happened during the first wave, what have you been doing as a consequence, and what are you doing now as numbers overall rise?

“What about the dining room? What are you doing about seniors alone in their units? Are staff members visiting them? When they bring them food, are they spending time with them? Who’s talking to them?”

“I’m concerned about loneliness and lack of stimulation. They can’t be sitting in front of a TV 24/7!”

Meanwhile, at least two senior residences in the West End, the Salvation Army’s Montclair Residence and Westhill Residence, have closed or are in the process of shutting down.

“That’s a little scary,” Sandler said. “There are not that many resources for Anglophone seniors in the West End, while there is more choice in the West Island.”

Still, accommodations can be found, though Sandler says she is spending more time than ever assisting those looking for guidance on how to hire staff to keep seniors living at home.

“Families who are not keen on moving into a residence now are calling me looking for advice: How do we interview private caregivers, can you recommend any private care-giving agencies, what should we do, what should we ask?

“People are even afraid to hire homecare workers because if they’re not getting full-time work it means they’re working in other places.”

The cost for a senior staying in a private residence with meals can be as low as $2,000, for a “very basic plan,” often without housekeeping and medication distribution, and up to $10,000 a month in higher-end full-service facilities.

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