Manitoba sisters unable to visit dying mother want transformation to restrictions

WINNIPEG — Two Manitoba sisters, who are not allowed to visit their mother dying of pancreatic cancer, want the province to transform the restrictions surrounding palliative care.

Under the current public health restrictions, the family had to designate one visitor for their mother when she went into palliative care at the Riverview Health Centre, and they chose their father, who can visit from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Leah McDonald said these rules are robbing her and the rest of her family of the opportunity to say goodbye, and it is a moment they will never get back.

She described the situation as unethical, appalling, inhumane, savage, and brutal.

“I can’t hold her hand, none of that,” she said.

“We are here just so that we can talk to our mom and give her some dignity in her last days.”

Leah said she wants to be able to say goodbye to her mother with safety protocols in place, including social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand sanitization. 

She said she recognizes the risks of COVID-19, but has taken a test that came back negative.

“I pose no threat,” she said. “I never leave my house.”

She explained that under the current rules, the rest of the family can visit when her mom is two hours away from passing away, but only two people at a time. This means the whole family can’t be in the room together.

“So we cannot pray as a family,” Leah said. “We cannot all be together.”

Rachel McDonald, Leah’s sister, said their mother has only a few days left to live, and at this point, she is struggling to eat and breathe. 

She said not being able to be with her mother is “unjust” and she won’t just sit by and allow it to happen. 

“This is not just for our mother,” Rachel said.

“We are not the only ones going through this.” 

She added they are hoping to see a provincial transformation so that no one else has to go through what her family is experiencing.

Leah said there would be “deep psychological effects” for people who don’t get the closure of saying goodbye to a loved one. 

“COVID already had psychological effects on our entire society, but we really want to make sure that we can heal the next family,” she said.

Leah added this is a difficult time for her family that has been made even tougher by the fact that they have to combat these restrictions. 

She said they have reached out to Health Minister Heather Stefanson, Premier Brian Pallister, along with Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, and haven’t heard anything back.

In a statement to CTV News Winnipeg, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said all health-care facilities in Manitoba are operating under the same set of principles and guidelines. 

The statement noted that the guidelines allow for one essential care partner, as well as exceptions for visitors in some circumstances.

The spokesperson added that the specific guidelines for end-of-life care say, “Consideration will be given to the stage of illness, projected timing of death and trajectory of expected decline. The decision related to when an individual is reaching their end of life will be informed by the care team and is unique to the circumstances of each individual.”

The guidelines go on to say during “the last two weeks of life (rapid decline with an estimated survival of less than two weeks), a maximum of four essential care partners may be identified to visit. Two persons may attend within a 24-hour time frame (both may attend at the same time provided physical distancing requirements can be maintained). Respecting every situation is unique, additional essential care partners beyond four is to be managed on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with site leadership and IP&C.”

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