There has been lots of discussion over the past few months about the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. Seniors living in congregate settings like long-term care homes have received particular attention. When the pandemic began many of these residential settings introduced strict lockdowns, restricting families from visiting their loved ones in an effort to prevent spreading the virus. People with developmental disabilities living in congregate settings like group homes and special care homes have had similar experiences, but there has been relatively little focus on the policies in these settings, and their impacts. 

With the help of our member organizations in each province and territory, Inclusion Canada put together a summary document looking at the visiting policies in residential care settings for people with developmental disabilities across Canada. We wanted to see how different provinces and territories have been reducing the risk of COVID-19 while also protecting against the negative physical and mental health consequences and discrimination that can come with isolation.  When it comes to supporting people with a developmental disability, we know that having access to family and friends is about much more than social visits – it’s often essential to having your communication understood and your needs met. 

The summary document explores: 

  • the number of visitors allowed, 
  • rules about when, where, and how long visits can be,
  • requirements about screening, hand washing, physical distancing and use of masks and other protective measures,
  • whether the policy used is specific to residential settings for people with developmental disabilities.

Doing this work helped us understand what is happening in residential care settings across Canada. We learned that policies are sometimes hard to find, they change quickly, and in a lot of cases, there are no specific rules for residential care settings for people with developmental disabilities. The process of trying to collect this information helped us appreciate how difficult and confusing this can be for families and caregivers. The same policies that are used for long-term care facilities are often applied to residential care settings, without always factoring in the important differences and unique needs of people with developmental disabilities. People with developmental disabilities have been and continue to be overlooked in our country’s COVID-19 response.

As the pandemic progresses and visiting policies continue to change, it’s crucial that provincial and territorial policy-makers involve people with developmental disabilities and their families, as well as practitioners with expertise in developmental disability, infectious diseases, and mental and physical health to design equitable, rights-based policies that meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities.

*This summary document is up to date as of July 17, 2020. If you are aware of changes to visiting policies in provincial/territorial residential care settings, please contact us.