It was like a family reunion. Except everyone wore masks and sat at outdoor tables in the garden of a long-term-care home, under skies threatening rain.
But nothing — not even the threat of a thunderstorm in the forecast — could deter Jessica Ng and her family from seeing her elderly parents in person on Saturday for the first time since November, less than 24 hours after the province relaxed the rules around who can visit residents of long-term-care homes.
“It’s just a very euphoric moment for us,” said Ng.
Her mother and father both live at The Wexford on Lawrence Avenue East, on different floors.
Ng brought her son, Jacob Behara, 19.
Her sister, Jennifer Ng, was there too, with her husband, Anthony de Leon, and their children Julia, 14, and Joshua, 12, visiting their family matriarch, Lermie de Leon, who also lives at The Wexford.
“We missed Thanksgiving, we missed their birthdays, we missed Christmas, New Year’s,” said Ng. “So this was wonderful.”
They took turns sitting at the tables, in order to stay within the new rules, which permit up to four visitors at a time, per resident — a maximum of two specially designated caregivers and two other visitors — which can include visitors from different households.
Ng talked to her dad about fishing and to her mom about the endless scarves she knits, and expects them to sell (they give them away to family and friends).
“She’s called me 20 times since Friday, she was so excited,” said Ng.
The change was part of a number of restrictions lifted by the province last week amid falling new COVID-19 cases.
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The Ngs were among the lucky one — not all long-term-care homes were able to throw open their doors on Saturday, saying they need more time, staff and volunteers to prepare.
Visitors still have to be checked in and answer COVID-19 screening questions, and someone, a staff member or volunteer, has to bring the residents outdoors, which can be a process.
“The home is not prepared staff-wise to do these garden visits,” said John Jarema, a retired dentist who visits his mother at the Copernicus Lodge on Roncesvalles Avenue several times a week. He doesn’t blame the lodge for not being able to accept more visitors so quickly, although he is looking forward to the day — hopefully next week — when his family too, can enjoy a reunion of sorts.
“I’m excited. I’m ready to bring my own kids and grandkids in, and even take my mom out for a walk,” said Jarema.
Mary Oko, chair of the family council at Copernicus Lodge, said that while the change is welcome, she thinks Ontario Premier Doug Ford is trying to deflect criticism in the wake of a scathing report from the auditor general and the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission, which both pointed to failures in the provincial government’s response to the epidemic among the elderly living in congregate settings.
“They’re throwing these little goodies to us … but how is the home supposed to turn it around within a day when they don’t have staffing to begin with,” said Oko. “It’s not realistic.”
She added that the messaging is confusing — Ontario remains in lockdown, but people can mingle outside their bubbles at long-term-care homes.
Jessica Verhey, a spokesperson for Kensington Gardens residence and the Gardens Leadership Team, said that ideally, the facility would have had time to get a booking system up and running, but didn’t want to disappoint residents and their families, some of whom have been waiting more than a year to be together.
On Saturday, they allowed designated caregivers to escort their loved ones outdoors to meet with other visitors.
“That was kind of our workaround until we get our system up,” said Verhey.
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF
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