Elderly residents in care homes are being made to quarantine in their rooms for weeks even if not infected, leading relatives to question the necessity of this health measure and express concern about its impact on their mental health.

They follow on the case of an elderly man, Charles Darmanin, who is on hunger strike in protest at what he terms as “endless” quarantine at his care home.

If one person contracts COVID-19, all the residents on the same floor are locked up in their rooms for two weeks even after they have tested negative to the virus, one family member confirmed about his mother’s situation.

He preferred to remain anonymous since his mother was left to her own devices in the home and he no longer had access to her as visiting had stopped.

He questioned the need to isolate all negative persons for such a long period, insisting this was excessive and counterproductive. The health of his quarantined 78-year-old-mother was deteriorating as a result.

Last month, when announcing new health protocols that came into force on Monday, Health Minister Chris Fearne had specified that homes for the elderly would not be affected by the measures, given that most of their residents had received the booster dose.

Asked whether residences for the elderly were introducing their own ad hoc restrictions and whether they were in line with health regulations, the Ministry for Senior Citizens and Active Ageing said that “restrictions are in line with the public health consultations”.

The Social Care Standards Authority (SCSA), which provides the guidelines in case of COVID-19 restrictions, ensured that these measures were being implemented by the service providers through regular inspection visits, the ministry said.

“Any further requests by the care homes to introduce additional measures due to positive COVID-19 cases are scrutinised by SCSA and decisions are taken in line with public health policies,” the ministry added.

“Care homes not adhering to SCSA guidelines are to take responsibility for their actions. Such reports are investigated by SCSA.”

'Boredom aggravating dementia'

Meanwhile, the concerned son said his mother suffered from early dementia and that the boredom was aggravating her condition, making her “anxious and scared”.

She spent the day locked up, watching TV and reading the paper.

I question whether this quarantine is too much for them

“She relies on seeing me and I would visit every day. But now, I consider us lucky that I can see and speak to her from the road while she is in the garden. I question whether this quarantine is too much for them,” he said.

Elderly and independent parents of his friends were also being locked up and were “giving up”, he added.

While he understood that care homes would do anything to prevent an outbreak, he urged the authorities to consider the impact on the physical health and state of mind.

Restrictions in some homes for the elderly have “tightened” due to the surge in cases, with visits by appointment and various quarantine measures in place.

CareMalta Group, which operates nine homes for the elderly, is caring for positive residents within its homes, Noel Borg, its senior nursing manager said. This meant “specific areas and bubbles were completely isolated in quarantine”.

Swabbing has increased while visitors and others were not allowed to enter residents’ rooms. They must visit by appointment to avoid congestion, although vising times have not changed.

St George’s Care, which operates Casa Antonia, in Balzan and The Imperial residential and nursing home, in Sliema, has requested all residents returning from hospital or a social event to quarantine in their room for a few days before joining other residents.

They must stay in their rooms at all times, have their meals there and not receive any visitors, Sarah Cassar, St George’s Care managing director, said.

Most residents chose not to leave the home to avoid having to isolate in their rooms on return and this meant they were not going out with family either, she added.

However, Cassar did not feel that the “slight tightening” was leaving a huge impact on the residents, especially since similar measures have now been in place for almost two years.

'Unable to socialise during festive season'

“The biggest disappointment for our residents was that they had once again not been able to socialise with their relatives and friends from outside the home during the festive season,” Cassar acknowledged.

“All social events that involve residents’ friends and relatives have been cancelled for many weeks now, with no end in sight.”

Only two persons can visit each resident at a time, in a specified common area, and they must be vaccinated, she explained.

At St Vincent de Paul Long Term Care Facility, the situation was under close monitoring so “any necessary modifications required are taken immediately”, according to the CEO, Josianne Cutajar.

All visits are done by appointment and in line with strict protocols for infection control purposes, she said.

She added that specific cases “are addressed with the appropriate measures, which, to date, are maintaining the situation under control”.

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