COVID-19 rules means Barrie woman can’t use physical touch to communicate with non-verbal daughter

Group home visit prevents physical contact; mom wants changes made

A Barrie woman wants the Ford government to change course and allow her access to her daughter’s group home as an essential caregiver and to remove physical distancing rules.

Karina Zwaan hasn’t hugged her 25 year old daughter since February.

Allyson Zwaan-Fragomeni has a condition that requires round-the-clock care. She lives in a Barrie group home managed by Empower Simcoe.

While Zwaan understands the constraints placed on Empower Simcoe to keep staff and residents safe from COVID-19, in the case of her daughter, it has been gut wrenching because Allyson cannot communicate verbally, only by physical touching or touching concrete objects.

“If she wants to go for a walk, she grabs her shoes and hands them to me, or grabs the remote to watch television,” said Zwaan. “When the home was not allowing anybody in we set up her with an iPad to FaceTime. It was meaningless to her. She can’t understand why her family and brothers are in this box.”

L-R: Allyson Zwaan-Fragomeni and Karina Zwaan(picture provided)

With the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit in Stage 3 of reopening the province, Zwaan has more access to her daughter, but there is no physical touch. Zwaan no longer is required to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks before visiting her child. Meetings with her daughter are held outside in the backyard with physical distancing, and Zwaan must wear a mask, and she notes that the visit is supervised by a manager. Zwaan finds the experience difficult.

“Oh my God, yeah. I am used to seeing her run to me and throw her arms around me and lead me to the car because she is so excited.”

Last Wednesday the visit with her daughter was held in the basement of the group home because it was raining. Zwaan said they brought Allyson down and she just stood there, as if she was terrified to reach out and touch her and come to her.

“She was just looking at me with big eyes. I don’t know what I did wrong and why are you mad at me? It’s a mom’s instinct on this that I believe that is what she was thinking. I raised her by myself for 16 years and she does know what consequences are for misbehaviour. I think she believes she has done something wrong.”

In a statement to Barrie 360, Claudine Cousins, Chief Executive Officer of Empower Simcoe, said the organization is following guidelines set out by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, which includes rules about physical distancing during visits.

The Ford government has not altered its plan regarding group home visits citing the advice of medical experts. The Opposition NDP is pushing hard for change and have tabled a motion calling on the government to develop an essential caregiver strategy. This would allow immediate family access to congregate-care settings.

“We need parents and others defined as essential caregivers,” said Zwaan. “We are essential for that person’s well-being. Secondly, we want that social distancing piece to be removed. I can’t have a meaningful conversation with my child who communications via physical touch when I can’t touch her.”

She wants this to apply to more than just group homes but also retirement residences and long-term care facilities.

Zwaan said Empower Simcoe has looked after her daughter’s physical health. She feels people forget the other components that need to be managed as well such as emotional, social and mental health.

“I understand the position they are in. I would not want to be the agency to let Doug Ford know you let COVID in the door.”