It was like a family reunion. Except that everyone was wearing masks and sitting at tables outside in the garden of a nursing home and the sky threatened to rain.
But nothing – not even the threat of a thunderstorm in the forecast – could stop Jessica Ng and her family from seeing their elderly parents in person for the first time since November on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the province eased rules on who can Visit nursing home residents.
“It’s just a very euphoric moment for us,” said Ng.
Her mother and father both live on separate floors at Wexford on Lawrence Avenue East.
Ng brought her 19 year old son Jacob Behara with her.
Her sister Jennifer Ng was also there with her husband Anthony de Leon and their children Julia (14) and Joshua (12) and visited their family matriarch Lermie de Leon, who also lives in Wexford.
“We missed Thanksgiving, we missed their birthdays, we missed Christmas and New Years,” said Ng. “So that was wonderful.”
They took turns sitting at the tables to comply with the new rules, which allow up to four visitors per resident at the same time – a maximum of two specially designated carers and two other visitors – which can include visitors from different households.
Ng spoke to her father about fishing and to her mother about the endless scarves she knits and expects them to be sold (they pass them on to family and friends).
“She has called me 20 times since Friday and was so excited,” said Ng.
The change was part of a series of restrictions the province lifted last week amid falling new COVID-19 cases.
The Ngs were among the lucky ones – not all nursing homes were able to open their doors on Saturday, saying they needed more time, staff and volunteers to prepare.
Visitors have yet to be checked in and answer COVID-19 screening questions, and someone, a staff member or volunteer, has to take residents outside, which can be a process.
“The house is unmanned for these garden visits,” said John Jarema, a retired dentist who visits his mother several times a week at Copernicus Lodge on Roncesvalles Avenue. He doesn’t blame the lodge for not being able to accept more visitors so quickly, although he is looking forward to the day – hopefully next week – when his family can enjoy a kind of reunion too.
“I’m excited. I’m ready to bring my own children and grandchildren and even go for a walk with my mother,” said Jarema.
Mary Oko, Chair of the Copernicus Lodge Family Council, said that while the change is welcome, she believes Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford is trying long-term following a damning report from the Auditor General and the COVID-19 To deflect criticism Care Commission, both of whom pointed to failures in the provincial government’s response to the epidemic among elderly people in communities.
“They toss us these little goodies … but how is the house going to turn it over in a day if they have no staff at first,” Oko said. “It’s not realistic.”
She added the news was confusing – Ontario was still locked down, but people could mingle outside of their bubbles in nursing homes.
Jessica Verhey, spokeswoman for Kensington Gardens residence and the Gardens leadership team, said that ideally the facility would have had time to get a booking system up and running, but didn’t want to disappoint the residents and their families, some of whom I did have waited more than a year to be together.
On Saturday, they allowed certain carers to take loved ones outside to meet other visitors.
“That was kind of a workaround until we got our system in place,” Verhey said.
Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter who covers City Hall and local politics for the star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF