How the Personal Care Home Tried to Steal Christmas and What We Can Learn From It

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Happy belated holidays to all my readers. I have several blogs that I’ve started over the last two weeks but haven’t had time to finish. As the holidays fast approached, life got busier. I’m sure many of you can relate to that. I will post some of my partially written blogs next week after tweaking them a little to reflect the post-date publishing.

Christmas is my favourite holiday but it’s also a hectic time. Shopping, baking, cleaning, celebrating, wrapping, planning, preparing, you get the gist.  Add freezing winter temperatures, snowstorms, shovelling and spending an extra ten minutes getting dressed to head out and suddenly, the minutes, hours and days just fly by in a frigid and frenzied seasonal blur.  

This month has been a complete gong show around here, especially as we got closer to the holidays. In between normal life obligations and responsibilities, I was tasked with planning our family Christmas gathering. Having two loved ones in a care home added to the challenge. We’re lucky they reside in the same facility. It would be even more difficult if they were in two different places.

Last Christmas

The past few years have been difficult. Between the pandemic and my mom and sister’s health issues, getting together as a family was not possible. Last year, my mom and sister were in two different hospitals during the holidays. Our Christmas celebration was done over a group Facetime session.

I brought Mom Christmas dinner and sat with her at the hospital while my sister’s husband sat with her at a different hospital where she was admitted. My brother and his family were nestled safely in their own home enjoying their own turkey dinner.  We collectively set a time to do a group Facetime chat and for about 15 minutes, we celebrated the holiday virtually through the smallish screens on our phones. It was a unique holiday celebration, but we managed to make the most of it.

There’s no way we could have known just how different life would be a year later.

Because the last few years have been so challenging and my sister has missed out on every holiday and special event the last nearly three years, getting together this year was especially important for all of us. To have our family dinner, we/I had to work around special circumstances to make it happen. A wheelchair accessible location, transportation, medical care, and extra bundling to protect against the cold temperatures were the biggest concerns.

After weeks of discussions and planning, and Christmas only days away, all the arrangements were finally done. All that was left was waiting for the big day to arrive The whole family, especially my mom and sister, were excited about the upcoming festivities.

The Care Home Tried to Steal Christmas

As the last few days before Christmas were quickly winding down, the personal care home dropped the hammer. It started with a whispered rumour three days before Christmas that was confirmed later that day when I spoke with the director.

On December 22, my brother-in-law was told by one of the nurses at the care home that all resident leaves were suspended until further notice so no one could go out for Christmas. He told my sister who told my mom who quickly called me. I called the poor nurse who had the unlucky task of informing all families that called what little information she knew about the suspension. 

No official notice or email was sent to inform families, many of whom who had already made plans to celebrate the festive season with their loved ones outside of the nursing home. Nor was it mentioned to me on December 19 when I called the care home and spoke to one of the nursing coordinators about our upcoming Christmas Day plans.

The director confirmed the rumour when I spoke with her later that day. After a lengthy discussion, she stated she couldn’t stop my mom and from going out with family but if they did leave the care home, there would be consequences. My mom and sister would have to quarantine in their rooms for 14 days after.

My mom and sister were devastated. My mom cried. They were looking forward to being with family for Christmas and now everything was in jeopardy. The thought that they would be missing another holiday was emotionally crushing. But the two had a difficult decision to make, miss Christmas or face staying in their room away from everyone for 14 days because they left the facility for a few hours.

I can’t and will never make decision for either relative, especially one like this. They were put in a difficult position that, to them felt like a lose-lose.  Collectively, we reassured both Mom and Sister that we as a family fully supported whatever decision the two of them made. We were more than ready and willing to rearrange our family plans to meet their needs so they would still be with family on Christmas day.

After much thought and conversations, both Mom and sister decided they wanted to go for dinner. They want to be with their family so both are willing to quarantine for the 14 days afterwards. I promised to spend more time with them, as have other family members. We have all reassured them, they will not be alone during their quarantine period.

An official notice about the suspension was finally sent to all family members via email on December 23, leaving many families frustrated and frantically rearranging their holiday plans at the last minute.

So, after all the challenges, the home’s last minute, not communicated plan to restrict all leaves, our family Christmas dinner was a go. We took every precaution to keep my mom and sister safe and minimize every possible risk of getting sick.

Christmas Day

We had our Christmas dinner and it was, as holiday dinners go, organized chaos, busy, fun, merry, and most of all, wonderful. We laughed a lot, ate delicious food, and enjoyed a joyful and memorable evening together as a family. It was a very Merry Christmas for all and for all of us, a good night.

For my mom and sister, who are now in their quarantine period, going for Christmas dinner with their family was worth the consequence.

Closing Thoughts

There’s no question, the decision to suspend resident leaves was a very poorly planned and even more poorly communicated by the PCH. The suspension of resident leaves had nothing to do with the health authority’s policies. It was the volunteer boards own decision, and it was made without input from most residents or their families. Staff, residents and families were not informed in a clear or open manner. When the news was finally broadcast, only a few people were aware. The nursing staff were left to deal with the phone calls and complaints by surprised and frustrated family.

The care home’s decision to stop resident’s from going out during the holidays, a time that can already be difficult for some, was, while made with good intentions, mentally and emotionally harmful to the many residents who were eagerly anticipating spending the holidays with their families. It was also an added stress for the many families who were forced to readjust their plans at the last minute to accommodate the care home’s rule.

Living in a personal care home is not easy, especially during the holidays. Seniors who reside in PCHs lose their independence and freedom to participate in the familiar routines and traditions that have been part of their holiday celebrations for many years.

I am not opposed to protecting seniors. Having two loved ones in a care home, I am very well aware of how vulnerable and fragile their health is. Illnesses that inconvenience us can be life threatening for my mom, sister, and other adults residing in PCHs. I appreciate the hard work and efforts made to keep those residing in care homes healthy and safe.

But there must be balance between protecting the residents in a care home and allowing seniors to live their lives as best they can. A one-size-fits-all, all or nothing approach in decision making has and will never work. Creating policies and rules that only focus on the physical wellbeing while ignoring the emotional and mental wellbeing of residents can be more damaging to their health, especially during special occasions and holidays.

In the situation we faced as a family and community with this care home, the lack of communication was more than just an oversight or inconvenience. It was inconsiderate and disrespectful to all the residents and their families. My hope is for the staff and board to learn from the mistake so we can all help our senior loved ones have a high quality and enjoyable life in the nursing h

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com
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