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Kitty needs expert dental surgery? Closest vet specialist across the border in New Brunswick?
No problem. Despite the pandemic, New Brunswick approves travel into that province “to access specialized or urgent veterinary care.”
Your 99-year-old mum — living at home in Sackville, N.B. — has dementia? Your 93-year-old dad can’t cope? New Brunswick home care can’t provide enough support?
Sorry, not a good enough reason to allow you in.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone.
Antigonish resident Jacqueline Throop-Robinson can’t understand why New Brunswick is stopping her from going to care for her elderly parents in their Sackville home.
“Maybe I should make an appointment for my dog in Riverview,” Jacqueline says with a wry laugh. “There’s a vet in Riverview who’s an ophthalmologist for dogs. So, if I made an appointment in Riverview to bring my dog in to see an ophthalmologist, ’cause he’s the best ophthalmologist in the Maritimes, I might get in.”
Jacqueline knows her 99-year-old mum, Irene Bourgeois, should be in a nursing home due to her severe dementia. But there are no spots available.
Her dad, Ludger Throop, almost 94, is mentally sharp, but he’s physically unable to give Irene the demanding round-the-clock care she needs.
Government-sponsored home care provides about 50 hours a week of support — when they’re there. Jacqueline says she constantly deals with agency caregivers on sick leave, quitting, or, like last weekend, understandably cancelling due to a snowstorm.
But at this stage, her parents need 24-7 care. That’s 168 hours a week. Her mother’s dementia has deteriorated sharply in the past two months. In December, Jacqueline and her dad hired private home-care workers to plug the gaps. They’re a godsend, but the cost, which they share, is roughly $6,000 a month.
Until denied entry earlier this month, Jacqueline had a rotating schedule where she’d go to Sackville for a week — staying put with her parents — so she could relieve the private caregivers, who worked days on end without a break. And save some money.
Back in Nova Scotia, she’d self-isolate for two weeks, take a week for personal errands, then plan to return to New Brunswick.
Jacqueline called it “compassionate travel” on the New Brunswick application form.
Then, at the beginning of February, the rules changed.
“They said my mother had to be ‘end of life.’ It had to be an end-of-life situation,” Jacqueline says.
“It’s not end-of-life. She’s not dying.” Jacqueline clears her throat. “But she needs care. She would have ended up in the hospital if we hadn’t found these (private home care) women. The nursing homes weren’t accepting anyone. We were out of options.”
She says she understands New Brunswick is trying to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
“But, in Mum and Dad’s situation, where they don’t have the services that a nursing home provides, you have to balance the risk with their well-being. Because it becomes even riskier to not support,” Jacqueline says.
“Like, Mum falls. Or Dad faints and hits his head. Or ... there’s all sorts of things.
“Even from a sanity point of view. Sometimes, honestly, my father really is on the brink. I’m pretty sure he’s clinically depressed. It’s a tough haul. You know, you’re weak and frail, and you’re trying to get a 99-year-old woman to sit in her chair, and she won’t, and you don’t have the strength.”
“You mean that animals are now more important than us (the elderly)?”
New Brunswick’s sponsored home care works well when a client’s needs aren’t great — and agency caregivers don’t call in sick or cancel due to bad weather.
“The system is kind of built for a best-case scenario. I understand,” Jacqueline says. But her parents’ situation is far from that.
“Their argument would be, Mum should be in a nursing home. When it's come to a point where it’s like this, she should be in a nursing home. But I can’t get her in a nursing home. So, that’s why I go.
“It’s just this big Catch-22 right now.”
In December, Jacqueline had tried bringing her mother home to live with her in Antigonish. In fact, they had renovated earlier in anticipation of that eventuality.
It didn't work.
“She literally lasted nine days. To take someone with her level of dementia and remove her from her home, it wasn’t possible. I couldn’t believe how severe her dementia got as a result of this change. She became delusional most of the time. She was trying to escape all of the time, pretty much.”
Once, Jacqueline caught her unlatching the second floor window to climb out. Reluctantly, she moved her mother back to her familiar surroundings in Sackville.
“It was really humbling to see how powerful this disease is.”
Jacqueline, who was adopted and grew up as an only child, is extremely close to her Acadian parents.
Both worked hard all their lives, she says, her dad at Marshland’s Inn, a well known Victorian B&B in Sackville, as a groundskeeper for 35 years, and her mom cleaning houses and looking after elderly people in their homes.
Both were very much part of their community, always helping others.
“My parents are just phenomenal people,” Jacqueline says. “Like, everyone loves them. You know, my friends would often say to me, ‘I wish your parents were my parents.’ Just ’cause they were that special.”
Growing up, she felt she had everything she needed.
“I recognized that I could have had any parents and I just really felt grateful to have had the parents I had. It truly was unconditional love. I didn’t even know, until I was in my mid-20s, that we were working poor. I had no idea.”
After she and her husband moved to Halifax from Ontario — to be closer to their parents — they and Jacqueline’s parents visited each other all the time. When driving became too much for her dad, they, including their own two adopted children, went to Sackville frequently.
They moved to Antigonish four-and-a-half years ago. Her husband is a professor at St. FX. Jacqueline runs her own consulting human resources business.
In the spring of 2018, Irene and Ludger began receiving home care.
When the pandemic hit last March, Jacqueline says, to stay close to them, she and her family moved to their nearby summer property in New Brunswick. They stayed until September, when her teens started school in Antigonish.
Jacqueline kept visiting, every week. After the Atlantic Bubble burst in November, she always applied for, and received, approval from New Brunswick to cross the border.
“I always say the same thing. I’m one of the primary caregivers for my parents. These are their ages. This is where they live. And it’s always been approved. Until this recent spike, where they went back into red alert.”
After being denied, Jacqueline noticed online that New Brunswick had added an approved reason for entry: travel for specialized or urgent vet care.
She told her dad about it.
“You mean that animals are now more important than us (the elderly)?” he asked her in a recent call.
“Yes, Dad, I find it extremely frustrating,” she replied. “Maybe I’ll book Finland (her dog) with the opthamologist in Riverview so I can come and help you!”
On Thursday, Jacqueline learned one of her parents’ agency caregivers needs surgery and will be out for eight weeks.
That was the final straw, she told me. No matter the consequences, she’s going to Sackville next week. Her parents need her.
Despite everything, Jacqueline considered herself lucky.
“We found women (for private care) in the community. I have a business that allows me to pivot a little bit. But there are a lot of people who are not in this situation, and it’s hard for us. So I just can’t imagine, right?
“And the fix is so easy. Exemptions for elder care. Elderly people living in their homes. I don’t understand why it’s meeting that resistance.”
For the record, a Nova Scotia government spokesperson says our border is open, but non-residents coming to care for elderly relatives first have to self-isolate for two weeks, with exceptions considered “when family support is required and there is nobody else in the province who can provide it.”