Nova Scotians concerned about the well-being of loved ones in long-term care homes took to the street Tuesday morning calling on government to further loosen visitation rules.
Signs bouncing among the crowd of about 80, included messages like 'Saved from COVID, now dying from loneliness,' and 'Seniors deserve love and respect, not isolation.'
On August 26 Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang announced the easing of a few restrictions, including lifting the number of people residents of long-term care (LTC) homes can identify to visit indoors.
The group behind the rally, Reunite Families of Long-Term Care Residents, argues there are still too many strict public health protocols in place when it comes to visiting LTC residents.
Some of those attending the rally shared personal stories about their loved ones in LTC, including Catherine Johnston whose 92-year-old father lives at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial.
She says he is one of the few D-Day veterans left in Canada and he isn't being treated with any of the dignity he deserves.
"My dad gave up three years of his life in WWII and fought for the freedom of all of you today," she says. "He now sits inside a room, 24-hours a day with no freedom and no human rights."
Before the pandemic, Johnston says she would visit her father almost daily to assist with his care. Up until late-June, he went without a single visit. Johnston says now, she is only permitted a 30-minute supervised visit once a week while masks are worn and physical distance is kept.
She says his isolation has caused his Parkinson's disease to rapidly progress.
"Because my dad can only speak at a whisper level, I never hear one word that he can say and basically now he is unable to talk," she says. "The isolation of sitting in a room by himself has resulted in the extreme deterioration of his health."
Stefanie Stanislow also shared about her father, who is as well a Camp Hill resident.
"My sister Terry and I have spent the last few months watching our father decline mentally each day, becoming depressed, suffering from loneliness, and losing his will to live because of harsh restrictions placed on long term care facilities in this province," she says.
She says the strict visitation rules are also taking a toll on her mother.
"After 61 years together, my mother is treated like an outsider in my dad's life. Their time together is clocked on a watch for 30 minutes a week if we are lucky, and the gate she crosses through is to see him is padlocked shut before and after," she says holding back tears. "Is this my father's home or a prison?"
The group refers to a report released by The National Institute on Ageing in July, which finds current LTC visitor policies remain overly restrictive and cause harm to the well-being of residents. It says restricted access to visiting must balance the risks of COVID-19 infection with the risks of social isolation to resident health, well-being, and quality of life.
Reunite Families of Long-Term Care Residents is asking government to offer them a seat at the table in the COVID-19 LTC policy-making process to ensure family and resident voices are heard.
More information can be found on the group's website.