Visits to long term care and assisted living facilities are once again allowed in British Columbia, and in order to address the safety of residents and workers, an easy-to-access online orientation course called “COVID-19: Social Visitation Essentials” has been developed for the families and friends of those who want to visit loved ones who are in care.
The course — which takes less than one hour to complete — has been developed by SafeCare BC in collaboration with the Family Caregivers of British Columbia, which has provided $30,000 in initial funding to help ensure free access. Those who complete the orientation will become “COVID competent” before visiting their friends or family in care, which will increase safety and decrease the demands on facility staff, who are already under significant strain.
Ken Donohue, Director, Communications and Member Services for SafeCare BC, says that the impetus for developing the orientation course was safety.
“That’s paramount. We knew that opening care homes to visitors is extremely important for the social and physical well-being of residents, and that ensuring the health and safety of residents, employees, and visitors was also extremely important. COVID-19 has visited some care homes with terrible implications, so we asked ‘How can we allow visitors while ensuring the health and safety of all involved?’
“Like any virus, this one has devastating results for vulnerable people, and seniors are in that category. Physically, their bodies are weakened already, so if you introduce a virus it has tragic consequences. We want to make it so that people can visit, which is hugely important, and inject some safety at the same time.”
Donohue says that the course was developed for members of the public who aren’t health care workers or professionals, and who might have limited knowledge of COVID-19.
“They might never have been taught how to properly put on and take off personal protective equipment [PPE],” he explains. “Rather than just say ‘The care home is open, go visit,’ we thought that orientation would be helpful.”
The course gives some background about the COVID-19 virus, basic information about infection prevention and control, instructions about how to properly use PPE, and more. Donohue sees it as good for everyone.
“It’s a win for family and friends who desperately want to see loved ones, because it makes them comfortable that they have some basic knowledge. And it’s a win for care homes, as they’re already strapped from a resource perspective. Knowing that a visitor has taken the orientation, and that they have basic information, will make things so much better for them. We’re trying to create an environment that’s safe for everyone.”
Donohue says that the goal is to make the course freely available to anyone who wants to take it, and that they are looking for funding to help offset the cost.
“We partnered first with the Family Caregivers of B.C., who kindly provided $30,000 in funding, allowing us to make it free to the first 5,000 users, and any organization or individual can partner for funding. We have to pay $6 for every user, which could be financially challenging for us, so the more partners we have the greater the opportunity we have to offer this for free.
“And we believe it should be free. We don’t even want a small cost [for users]. We don’t want money to be a barrier. We want easy, free access for everyone.”
Anyone taking the course can do so at their own pace. When they have finished, users print off a completion certificate, which they can show to the care home. Donohue notes that individual care facilities will have their own safety protocols that visitors need to be aware of, but that the online course provides a solid start that will help ease the strain on facility staff.
“People will go to individual care homes and learn additional safety protocols,” he explains. “In order to allow visitors, each care home has to have a safety plan that goes to WorksafeBC. Do they have an orientation for visitors, a way to screen them, a way to ensure they’re wearing appropriate PPE? That will vary depending on the care home. Visits have opened up, but there are still some things people need to be mindful of. It’s not like a year ago, where the front door was open and you just came in. There are a lot of restrictions.”
Donohue says that they have heard from some care homes that they would like to make the course mandatory for every visitor. “We think it’s a good resource.” He adds that the orientation is useful for everyone, even if they will not be visiting a care home.
“We think that what people will get out of it will be beneficial for everyday life, such as how to wear a mask properly. This will benefit everyone, even if you don’t know anyone in a care home. We believe it’s good practice for everybody. It takes less than an hour of your time to get basic information and orientation. It’s a small bit of time to keep a care home safe.”
He adds that people who take the course can help educate others, and that there are a lot of people who take care of seniors and people with disabilities in their own homes. “The course can give those people that added knowledge and education that would benefit them as well.”
Donohue stresses how crucial visits from family and friends are to those in care, especially when they have been isolated for so long.
“The benefits of visitations are huge. If you have loved ones in care and you haven’t seen them for three or four months, it has a huge impact. Think about yourself. If we couldn’t have family or friends come and visit for three or four months, it would make us go crazy.
“Now think of people in care with dementia, who are confused. The impact is huge. To be able to allow visitors and have that social connection that’s so important: it’s great that it’s happening now. We just want to make sure that residents, staff, and the people coming in are safe.”
To enroll in the COVID-19: Social Visitation Essentials orientation, individuals can create their free account now at www.safecarebclearningspace.ca.