When Louise Rice learned her ill father had only a short time to live, she scrambled to travel from her home in Quebec to be by his side at the Edmundston, N.B., hospital where he had been admitted a few weeks earlier for a lung condition.
But during the final hours of her father's life, she was stuck in the parking lot of Edmundston Regional Hospital, prevented from going inside to say a final goodbye because she did not have the right paperwork to obtain the rapid COVID-19 test necessary to enter the premises.
"I was in the car. I was there. And then he was gone," Rice told Radio-Canada.
Rice crossed the provincial border without incident on the morning of Jan. 15, and after hospital staff told her to hurry because her father did not have much longer to live, she went straight to the hospital.
When she arrived, she was told she needed to pass a rapid COVID-19 test to enter the palliative care unit.
The hospital had a trailer in the parking lot for testing — but when she arrived there, she was told: no paperwork, no test. Registration in advance was required to get the test, so she began frantically trying to complete that process.
"I was on the phone; I was online; I did three or four applications," the Quebec City resident said.
Rapid tests often used for symptomatic individuals
Robert Rice died at about 9:30 p.m. AT on Jan. 15 with his daughter a few hundred metres away. Rice, a lawyer who had also served as a judge on the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, was 90.
His daughter said she doesn't understand why a rapid test would be the measure in determining whether or not she could be by his bedside.
Public Health has said rapid tests are useful for screening but are meant to be used primarily for symptomatic people.
"Dress me in a hospital gown, anything. I wouldn't touch anyone, but let me touch the hand of my father to tell him I'm there and love him," Rice said.
"No human being deserves to live through this — especially not my father."
Robert Rice was a long-time lawyer in the Edmundston area and ended his career on the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.
He was a resident of Lac Baker and spent time living in Fredericton.
Health authorities criticized
New Brunswick's regional health authorities have faced criticism for strict hospital visitation rules over the past month, with several instances of family members unable to see dying or severely ill relatives.
In one situation, an 80-year-old was kicked out of the hospital for holding her husband's hand.
WATCH | Daughter recalls day her father died while she was kept outside hospital
The province recently revised rules to allow expanded visits during the orange phase of COVID-19 restrictions. But for people entering from outside the province, the rules are more complicated.
Vitalité Health Network, of which Edmundston Regional Hospital is a part, told CBC News if there is no time to isolate before an imminent death, out-of-province visitors should make arrangements with the hospital for a rapid test.
Spokesperson Thomas Lizotte said family members must wait for the result outside the hospital and can enter once a negative result has been received. Visitors must wear personal protective equipment and can only visit one time in the 24 hours after the negative test.
Little time to make arrangements
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard called a situation such as Rice's "heartbreaking" and said she will work with the health authorities to see what obstacles remain in place.
"Certainly, when we have individual circumstances that are dire, I think we would like to help in any way we can," she said at a news conference Wednesday.
When Rice's health started to deteriorate rapidly, his family was left with about 12 hours to come to his bedside. It left little time for his daughter to navigate crossing the provincial border and arranging a rapid test.
At the time of Rice's death, the Edmundston region had been in the highly restrictive red phase of COVID recovery for more than two weeks. No visits were allowed for hospital patients except for palliative care. Rice was not moved to that unit until the morning of the day he died.
No family members were present.
"What devastated me the most, and what I find the most inhumane, is that my father spent two and a half weeks alone," Rice said.