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‘For my husband’: York Region woman shares story of husband’s decline in long-term care

Posted: October 10, 2020

(October 9, 2020)

By: Kim Champion,

With a small sign in her hand that said, ‘For my husband’, an emotional Margaret Calver yesterday told a small group of protesters at the Save our Seniors: Fix LTC! event in Newmarket that she is heartbroken about her husband’s decline in a long-term care facility during the COVID pandemic and the time to fix what ails the system is now.

Calver’s husband, Wayne, whom she describes as “the love of her life” throughout their 60-year marriage, has advanced dementia and has been living for 11 years in a secure unit at the publicly funded Markhaven Home for Seniors in Markham, a nursing home that’s been hit particularly hard by COVID.

Throughout the 60-day coronavirus outbreak that began March 17, 2020, 19 residents died and 36 per cent of the resident population was infected, according to York Region public health data. Of the facility’s health-care workers, 22 confirmed cases of COVID were reported during that outbreak.

“My husband is severely disabled, a veteran, he’s totally helpless, and he’s in a wheelchair now, but he was walking on March 22,” Calver said, her voice straining with distress. “Me and my daughter went in as essential caregivers for the last three weeks, feeding him, stimulating him, playing music, doing physical exercises, and we have seen such a change in him. He just started responding, his eyes were open all the time.”

Calver, along with others who were demonstrating Thursday outside Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office, is critical of the Ontario government’s response to the pandemic in its publicly funded long-term care homes.

“There are 21 residents in (my husband’s) unit and there are two personal support workers,” said Calver. “That is a ratio of 11 to 1. They have about six minutes to get them up, get them dressed, and ready for breakfast.”

“Christine Elliott knows all the issues, what has she done to fix long-term care, what has the Ford government done? They say they will do what it takes to fix long-term care, I’m waiting for the fix.”

A request for comment from Minister Elliott was redirected to Long-term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, who did not respond to NewmarketToday at the time of publication.

Local activists from Common Ground Coalition were joined by supporters, union leaders, including the Ontario Federation of Labour president Patty Coates and CUPE Local 905 president Katherine Grzejszczak, representatives from the Canadian Federation of University Women, and frontline health-care workers, to hammer home the message that the Ford government must immediately fix the problems in a long-term care system that they say has contributed so far to the deaths of more than 1,900 seniors and sickened thousands of health-care workers, eight of whom died.

Speaking on behalf of the Ontario Health Coalition, which organized the provincewide day of action for long-term care on Oct. 8, Common Ground spokesperson Jon Aston said the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic “revealed an appalling state of neglect in long-term care homes”.

Aston reiterated health advocates’ calls for the provincial government to address the staffing crisis in the province’s long-term care homes, implement a minimum of four hours of hands-on care per resident, per day, and end for-profit long-term care facilities.

“The funding and staff announcements last week by the Ford government is far less than needed to ensure that the care levels are actually increased,” said Aston. “There is no clear recruitment plan, and the updated visitor policy does nothing to stabilize the workforce or increase the care per resident.”

A York Region registered practical nurse also shared her experience of working in long-term care, noting that understaffing is a chronic problem in every department.

The Ontario Federation of Labour’s Coates agreed, saying that she learned recently of a personal support worker in Ottawa who has to care for 30 COVID-19 patients at one time.

“That’s just unbelievable, that is a shame and that should not happen,” Coates said. “We lost so many incredible lives through that first wave in long-term care, and some seem to be from neglect, not just from COVID-19. We’ve also lost frontline workers in long-term care homes. There’s thousands of workers that became ill through COVID-19. The (government) saw that in the spring, and early summer, they had all summer to make plans, to make it right, and they did not.”

“Our long-term care system has been broken not just because of COVID, but it’s been broken for decades,” she said. “Our unions have called out governments in the past for the lack of proper funding for long-term care homes, for the fact that there isn’t enough staff to cover every department, there have been reports and surveys done by unions, again and again. So, this government can’t say they didn’t know what was coming.”

In July 2020, the Ontario government announced the launch of an independent, three-person commission that would investigate COVID-19 and the province’s long-term care sector.

The commissioners will investigate how COVID-19 spread within long-term care homes, how residents, staff, and families were impacted, and the adequacy of measures taken by the province and other parties to prevent, isolate and contain the virus.

The commission will also provide the government with guidance on how to better protect long-term care home residents and staff from any future outbreaks.

That report is expected to be completed in April 2021.

“As premier, I made a commitment to our long-term care residents and their families that there would be accountability and justice in the broken system we inherited,” Premier Doug Ford said in a July 29 statement. “…We are delivering on that promise by moving forward with a transparent, independent review of our long-term care system. We will do whatever it takes to ensure every senior in the province has a safe and comfortable place to call home.”

As part of its fall 2020 COVID-19 preparedness plan, the province on Sept. 28 announced an investment of $52.5 million to recruit, retain and support more than 3,700 frontline health-care workers and caregivers to ensure the health-care system can meet any surge in demand during the second wave of the coronavirus.

As of Oct. 7, the province enacted strengthened COVID-19 visitor policies in long-term care homes where there is higher community spread, including Toronto, Peel and Ottawa.

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