VICTORIA -- The return of personal visits is good news for families who have not seen loved ones in long-term care and assisted-living facilities on Vancouver Island.

Island Health has begun the process of scrutinizing and approving health plans that will see the return of in-person family visits at care home facilities across the island as early as next week.

In mid-March the health care agency was forced to eliminate all personal visits to the facilities that are home to a population considered to have the highest risk of being infected with COVID-19.

“It’s certainly not our preference to have families excluded from facilities,” said Mark Blandford, Island Health's executive director of primary care and seniors' health. “Families are a big part of what makes life in long-term care what it is and as quality as it can be.”

Blandford said it has been necessary to lock down facilities during the pandemic to maintain the safety of the residents in care and prevent the spread of the virus.

“We feel for the families who haven’t been able to visit their loved ones,” said Blandford. “The pressure has been mounting over the last month or so to relax the visiting requirements.”

The order allows for facilities to have visiting in either a resident’s room or a common space indoors or outdoors. All visitors must also wear a mask. 

Island Health is currently considering health plans from facilities to insure there is a sufficient number of staff to administer the visits. Additional cleaning procedures will also be in place to accommodate visitors from outside the facilities.

“Its a whole range of things that are practical nuts-and-bolts of having designated appointments coming in to the building while at the same time maintaining safety,” said Blandford.

Beginning as early as next week, families will be permitted to have one person designated to visit loved ones in care at facilities across Vancouver Island. 

Island Health says that one person will continue to be the designated visitor until provincial health officials allow visits to include others. Visits will be accommodated by appointment only at all assisted-living and long-term care homes.

“We’re looking forward to having them [family members] back in the buildings,” said Blandford. “We’re sorry it has taken a little bit of time to make sure we’ve got it 100 per cent safe, but we want to protect that record on Vancouver Island of not having any outbreaks [in care homes].”

Visits to assisted-living and care homes will begin after the health authority approves care plans for each facility. Each care facility is expected to contact family members when it begins to accept appointments for resident visits.