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COVID-19 pandemic has made 97-year-old B.C. care home resident want to die due to isolation

Kelowna woman care home isolation
Madeleine Payeur's mother in Pleasant Valley Manor in Armstrong taken last year before COVID-19. (via Submitted)

"There is more to living than just keeping them alive."

A Kelowna woman whose 97-year-old mother is staying at a long-term care facility in Armstrong is sharing how the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted her mother's life.

"My mom is saying 'you know what, I'm so depressed I want to die,'" says Madeleine Payeur. "My mom is going to be 98 this fall and because of the isolation and the loneliness, she's starting to be really confused."

Payeur says her mother moved into Pleasant Valley Manor one year ago, before the pandemic. While she initially had a ton of regular visitors, when the pandemic erupted, visitation was disallowed. Now, under guidance of the provincial health officer, the facility only allows one designated visitor: Payeur's sister, who lives close to their mother in Armstrong.

"My mom is a prisoner...She calls saying, 'Please take me out of here, I am so alone, I'm so lonely.' It rips my heart out," says Payeur.

The designated visits are only 45 minutes long and masks are required.

"She's hard of hearing and you put someone in front of her with a mask on, she can't even hear what they're saying. By the time my mom even understands what this is all about, the visit is over," explains Payeur, adding that her mother also has short term memory loss. "When my sister is there, they have a person sitting in on the whole visit so its not even private. Talk about a penitentiary."

And while Payeur is allowed to visit with her mother through video chats, it doesn't translate well.

"When my mom sees that, she thinks it's a nice picture," says Payeur. "She's not into technology and she sees that, but it's not the same as having a visit."

Payeur has been working tirelessly for the last several months to try and help her mother by reaching out to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Office of the Seniors Advocate. She wrote to Dr. Henry on June 25, when visitation was completely banned.

"We are incredibly sad for her and feel absolutely helpless. She is feeling so abandoned and doesn't understand why we are not visiting. She is very lonely and depressed, to the point that she wants to die," reads the letter.

The letter goes on to read, "You, Bonnie Henry are being hailed as a hero, full of compassion and kindness. Let me ask you this question, is it really compassionate to lock our loved ones in a long term care prison where they have to live their last few months of life without their families? What about their mental and emotional health?" 

"I see this as elder abuse, I see this as cruel. The staff at Pleasant Valley Manor should be the ones congratulated for their compassion and patience. They are the ones who are seeing first hand the sadness in the residents and families."

Payeur received a response on July 22, about three weeks after rules were changed to allow a single visitor.

Noah Treacher, director of patient and client relations with the Ministry of Health, responded on behalf of Dr. Henry and outlined the COVID-19 guidelines while encouraging Payeur to develop a plan with the care home "that best suits their needs while still following the Provincial Health Officer’s order to protect all staff and residents at long-term care facilities."

Payeur believes these issues have fallen on deaf ears and says she's not just advocating for her mother, but for everyone living in long term care homes who cannot speak for themselves. She hopes that the government will let people visit their loved ones in these facilities as soon as possible instead of having just one designated visitor.

"Their emotional health is very important. People in long-term care are there just waiting to die. So why not give them quality for the last few months they have left?" says Payeur, adding that she wants to be able to take her mother for walks in the nice weather as well as being able to bring her treats and fresh fruit.

"They won't let us do any of that," she says. "She's got a big family and lots of siblings and lots of children. Now she's been cut out from everybody."