North Shore retirement home installs ‘meetup centres’ for families to visit safely

A retirement home with three branches on the North Shore is trying something new to give families a potentially safer way to connect with their older loved ones in the era of COVID-19.

PARC Retirement Living – which operates five homes around Metro Vancouver, including two in North Vancouver and one in West Vancouver – has installed a series of free-standing, pod-like meetup centres adjacent to its residences.

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The purpose of the pre-fabricated structures is to allow residents of the retirement homes the opportunity to resume face-to-face visits, while maintaining physical distancing, with a small number of family as the ongoing health crisis continues, according to HeeSon Domay, general manager of Westerleigh PARC Retirement Living in West Vancouver.

“We realize how important it is for families and our residents to meet,” said Domay. “We wanted to be able to create that environment for them to have a face-to-face. They may speak on the phone or they might be staying digitally connected via Zoom or Skype or FaceTime with their devices, but there is no replacement for a face-to-face conversation with your loved one.”

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control currently advises restricting non-essential visitors to places like long-term care facilities and retirement homes in order to minimize the risk of introducing COVID-19 to a facility, which can pose a greater risk to older adults and seniors.

PARC’s new meetup centre buildings, which first opened in West Vancouver last week, attempt to offer a safe way for families to interact by providing a controlled environment for a visit, said Domay.

Featuring two separate entrances for residents and their visitors, the meetup space can be booked for a 45-minute visit with up two family members, according to Domay.

Inside the space is an air-conditioned lounge which features a Plexiglas shield that divides the interior into two distinct halves in order to maintain physical distancing and create an effective barrier.

North Shore retirement home installs ‘meetup centres’ for families to visit safely_1
The pre-fabricated structures feature separate entrances for visitors and residents - photo PARC Retirement Living

A PARC staff member is assigned to each meetup centre and sanitizes the chairs, Plexiglass and other areas after every visit, added Domay.

“We know we need to maintain that physical distance so there is no chance of transmission. We had these centres exactly created so that families could meet and have that face-to-face while maintaining that safety protocol of no touching,” she said.

Domay said that residents at the West Vancouver residence have so far taken to the new initiative and there had been a full slate of reservations on some days.

In response to a question during a briefing on the state of COVID-19 in B.C. yesterday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she wasn’t aware of any pre-fabricated meetup centres being installed.

Henry added, however, that health authorities were working on establishing more specific procedures for care homes across the province that would guide them in setting up safe interaction between residents and family members inside the actual residences.

“We need to ensure that we find that balance with everything else,” said Henry. “Particularly for people in the facility who are more mobile and are able to get out, there has been ability for some people to have distance visits outside and for people to get that much-needed fresh air. But it varies so much by facility.”

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