COVID-19 (coronavirus) Veterans

‘First hugs’ and maintaining connections during COVID-19 at Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre

Stephanie and Richard sitting in the garden at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre

Just outside of the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre, Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Stephanie enjoyed a “close-contact” visit in the garden.

“It was really, really, really great,” says Richard with lit up eyes, thinking about his first “close-contact” visit with Stephanie, which took place following her vaccination. This meant that Richard was finally able to hug his daughter after months of less frequent, distanced visits. Of that first hug, he says, “It was really magnificent. It was awesome.”

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre

These changes to visitation were much anticipated for Richard and the rest of the Veterans Centre residents, as throughout the pandemic, provincial visitation guidelines have been changing regularly and were even put on pause to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a little tiresome,” says Richard of the restrictions. But he adds, “We’re military. We’re used to working with changing orders on the fly. But it’s to our benefit. They’re only trying to stop the spread.”

“Understandably, restrictions are a big disruption to the Veterans,” says Lisa Cheung, the infection prevention and control coordinator for the Veterans Centre. “But I think everyone’s on the same page, understanding the high community prevalence and that these evidence-based measures will prevent the transmission.”

Lisa adds that despite many residents being fully vaccinated, with variants emerging in the community, easing the restrictions has had to be done very cautiously.

Using technology to stay connected

During those times when Richard wasn’t able to visit his family in person, the 92-year-old went virtual.

“I learned to use an iPad right here in Sunnybrook,” he says. On top of learning to use an iPad, Richard also learned how to use Zoom.

“We Zoom, my family. Right across Canada every Sunday for two hours,” he says. “It’s not quite the same; you can’t touch or anything like that. But we do all kinds of crazy things.”

Online, Richard and family from Nova Scotia to British Columbia have celebrated birthdays together, danced to music on New Year’s Eve and even played bingo.

“My son in Halifax won the $150,” he says of his family’s latest Zoom bingo session. Laughing, he adds, “I won a single line, $15.”

Richard recommends the other Veterans learn Zoom if they can, as it’s really allowed him to stay connected with family throughout this difficult time.

And while that technology’s been great, Richard is so happy that in-person visits are continuing to ramp up, with daily room visits and day/night passes now being permitted. He calls these changes an “enormous morale booster,” which enhance his already positive experience of being a Sunnybrook resident.

“We are grateful to the Canadian people who have provided us with a wonderful home and a lifestyle second to none,” he says. “We’re over 300 of the most privileged people in Canada. We’re looked after every way, every day. Can’t be any better than that.”

About the author

Kaitlin Jingco