As Irene Barnes lives out her final days at an Orillia long-term care home, her family is fighting for the chance to see her.
Barnes has been at Spencer House for a little more than a month, after being transferred there from Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, which moved its alternate-level-of-care patients to long-term care homes to free up beds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joan Vezina, Barnes’s sister, said the family has had a difficult time trying to get in to see Barnes.
Spencer House has allowed Barnes’s husband, Roger, to visit for an hour a day and is allowing her pastor to visit for half an hour a day. However, Vezina said, the home is not allowing Barnes’s son or daughter inside to see her.
“That’s the big fight right now with them,” Vezina said. “There is nothing by way of provincial restrictions that says you can only choose one person to visit you in a nursing home.”
A directive from the province states, “Long-term care homes must be closed to visitors, except for essential visitors. Essential visitors include a person performing essential support services (e.g. food delivery, phlebotomy testing, maintenance, family or volunteers providing care services and other health care services required to maintain good health) or a person visiting a very ill or palliative resident.”
OrilliaMatters sent a list of questions to Sienna Senior Living, which operates Spencer House, asking if it is denying Barnes’s son and daughter an opportunity to visit their mother.
Sienna Senior Living did not directly answer the questions. Instead, it provided a statement that read, in part, “Essential visitors are allowed to enter after passing screening and wearing appropriate PPE. This includes individuals who are designated as an essential visitor to enter for compassionate reasons so that they can be with a very ill or palliative resident.”
As of Thursday afternoon, Vezina said her sister’s son and daughter were still not being allowed in.
“She’s distressed at the moment,” Vezina said of Barnes. “Only this week, for the first time, was she able to see anyone, and then she found out it was only Roger and her pastor.”
Barnes has battled health issues for years, Vezina explained, “and after a valiant fight and enduring these last months of intractable pain, Irene, in consultation with the medical professionals entrusted with her care, has agreed to discontinue her last line of defence — kidney dialysis that is no longer effective as a therapeutic treatment.”
Patients typically live anywhere from one week to several weeks after discontinuing dialysis treatment.
“We’re looking at a couple of weeks, optimistically. If there’s a miracle, we’re looking at this side of a month,” Vezina said.
While Vezina only speaks with her sister on the phone since she lives in British Columbia, she said Barnes’s son, who lives in Durham, and daughter, who lives in Gatineau, Que., “are prepared to travel to Orillia at a moment’s notice” to see their mom.
The family is seeking legal advice about the right to see Barnes, but time is of the essence.
“The unbelievable tragedy here is much more than just the fact that our loved one, sister, wife, mother and grandmother, Irene, is desperately trying to maximize the last few days of her life,” Vezina said. “It's that this final illness arrived simultaneously with the COVID-19 pandemic and the understandable yet seemingly outrageous restrictions now in place at Spencer House to comply with both the law and the nursing home's additional, over-and-above regulations of its own.”
She described the situation as “cruel and inhumane.”
“It seems Irene was given an impossible choice — to choose only one family member to be able to see her in her final days,” she said. “Now, that is the human face of this pandemic. It will not be a good death. She will simply be unlucky collateral damage.”
Barnes has never been one to “make waves,” Vezina said, “but she is upset.”
“That’s why we are speaking up on her behalf.”