OPINION: Au Chateau and WNGH Visitor Policies are ‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’

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Last year Ontario and WN made international headlines for having the harshest restrictions in the world. Our region was the only place in North America to close ice rinks, trails, and tobogganing hills.

A year later, Ontario and WN are still setting records. Today we are known as having the most punitive rules for unvaccinated people. I don’t use the word punishment lightly. There is no other way to describe the unique restrictions afflicting unvaccinated Ontarians right now who want to visit their loved ones.

‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’ is described as punishments that are arbitrary, unnecessary, overly severe compared to the crime, or not generally accepted in society.

I believe Au Chateau and WNGH are currently engaging in this act when it comes to how it treats the ones who declined the COVID vaccine. I won’t try to explain the rationale or defend those who remain unvaccinated, but I want to elaborate how we are clearly in the realm of punishment with the unique rules affecting Ontarians.

While every other province in Canada allows anyone to enter their hospitals or long-term care (LTC) homes with proper screening, almost every one in Ontario completely forbids one segment of the population.
I describe these rules as unusual. Not because the data appears to show no meaningful difference in spread between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals (Source: PHO case data for the last 90 days). But they are unusual because hospitals and LTC homes in the province have the resources to test every person coming in.
Every person who has declined the COVID vaccine is denied the ability to visit loved ones even if they provide a negative test sample. LTC homes and hospitals in Ontario appear to be the only ones in the world to apply these illogical rules. Even mandate-friendly states south of the border have never even attempted this level of cruelty. New York and California with their incredibly strict vaccine mandates have always allowed all visitors into hospitals regardless of vaccination status.

Yes, Ontario and WN are once again an outlier in North America.

The story of Jamie-Lee and Jennifer Desroches illustrates what punishment looks like. Jamie-Lee didn’t do the right thing according to health authorities and declined to take the COVID vaccine last year. She understood that there would be some restrictions based on her choice. But her personal risk assessment of COVID based on her age and health prompted her to wait before taking the new mRNA vaccines. The fact that she already had natural immunity against COVID and the fact the only available vaccine was one created for the original strain and not as effective against Omicron, reinforced her decision.

Desroches understands the intricacies of managing respiratory risks in hospitals and LTC homes. On top of being a single mother of two young children while both studying and working full-time, she undertook the task of being the primary caregiver for her sister Jennifer four years ago. Jennifer, who received the tragic diagnosis of Huntington’s disease at the age of 22, was admitted to Au Chateau at the age of 34.

When many hospitals and LTC homes decided to implement strict vaccination policies for visitors last December despite case data evolving to show no correlation in spread between vaccination statuses, Desroches wasn’t too worried. Au Chateau has a great team of health care professionals that can test every entrant to the home. Surely if she agreed to the added burden of taking a test every single day she would be allowed to visit with her sister.

But she was in for a surprise when Au Chateau elected for punitive protocols that would give no exceptions for prior COVID infections or for providing a negative test. She hasn’t been able to visit Jennifer in over five months.

What troubles Jamie-Lee most is the unusual punishment her sister endures because of her absence. This past week she was informed that her sister was starting a serious foot condition that would require more daily care from her caregivers. Unfortunately, as her only caregiver, Jamie-Lee cannot come in to help. The nurse admitted that their staff shortage would likely not allow them to tend to her sisters’ issues appropriately which will likely worsen her problem and eventual mobility.

What troubles me most about Desroches’ story and the unique rules in Ontario is the lack of humanity of it all. Most people are not bothered by this cruel punishment simply because they believe that an unvaccinated person deserves it. They are indifferent to the logical flaws or the unusual aspects of these rules.
I don’t blame people for having differing views of the vaccines. Although it doesn’t seem to provide long-term protection or immunity, it does seem to lessen the severity of the disease.

Regardless of your feelings towards unvaccinated people, they simply have a different belief. It doesn’t matter if you think it doesn’t align with science and it doesn’t matter if you think they are wrong. If our society truly believes in science, the rules we implement must align with science. We cannot allow or tolerate rules that are simply punitive without logical risk reduction motivations.

Doing so is ultimately anti-science.

Rejean Venne, Verner

Editor’s Note :

The Tribune received written permission from the family cited to allow their name and story to be published in this letter.

The Tribune reached out to Au Château to confirm their visitation policy and were told that the policy does indeed preclude unvaccinated people from attending indoors at the LTC home, and this practice is adopted in LTC homes throughout the province. They could not comment on the individual case cited, other than to say that this situation was the subject of a complaint to the ministry of Health and Long Term Care and no breach was found, thus resulting in the complaint being dismissed. Individual family circumstances could not be discussed due to privacy regulations.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I agree, they shouldn’t stop anyone to visit, regardless if you haven’t been vaccinated. I was vaccinated but I still say those who wasn’t should be able to visit especially if residents were vaccinated

  2. It breaks my heart that they ‘System’ would be so cruel! It’s disgusting the way West Nipissing has been through out this Pandemic! Poor Counsel and closed- minded arrogant people, who thinks they are holier than thou!!! I agree with the writer of this article 100%
    Jennifer Martin

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