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I Don’T Want Mum To Think We’Ve Abandoned Her; She and seniors’ home residents already are victims of pandemic, more than most

Posted: April 12, 2020

(April 11, 2020)

By: Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star (Print Edition)

“I think I’m safe here,” Mum said over the phone.

“I’m sure you are,” I agreed. But I was lying. I’m not sure, not at all.

My mother is 98. She lives in a long-term care home.

“We’re putting an iron ring of protection around our seniors,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

But COVID-19 is sweeping through long-term care and retirement homes, killing dozens of our elderly.

Eighty-six residents in longterm care in this province had died as of Thursday, according to an Ontario Health Coalition report. That was almost half of the total deaths in Ontario, even though the number of people in long-term care make up only one half of one per cent of the population.

More than two dozen residents, more than a third of the population at one nursing home in Bobcaygeon, have died.

Another 498 long-term care residents and 347 staff in Ontario have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and the number is “escalating at a devastating pace,” according to the report.

There have been outbreaks at 69 long-term care homes.

At least four of the eight people who have died in Windsor and Essex County lived in long-term care or retirement homes.

There have been outbreaks at eight homes here. Every few days, there’s another. At least 12 residents and 15 staff have tested positive at Country Village Homes.

It’s so alarming that Dr. Samir Sinha, a leading geriatrics expert, told The Globe and Mail recently that families should consider taking their loved ones out of long-term care.

I froze when I read that. Seniors homes are easy prey for the virus. Many of the residents are frail, with weakened immune systems and chronic illness. Some can’t communicate when they feel ill or describe what their symptoms are. They normally eat together, share common living spaces, enjoy group activities.

Testing is key to containing the spread of the virus. Residents and staff in my mother’s longterm care home are screened twice a day, according to the latest update. But it wasn’t until last Wednesday that Ontario’s chief medical officer of health directed that people moving to long-term care homes be tested regardless of whether they show symptoms.

The coalition is “deeply concerned” that none of the provincial directives for long-term care – not staffing, training of staff, testing or personal protective equipment – are adequate to contain the spread.

And only a few residents who become sick with COVID-19 are being transferred to hospitals, it says. Some homes are telling families that if residents become ill with COVID-19 they won’t be taken to hospitals, the coalition reports.

Yet how can we consider taking Mum out? It was a wrenching decision for our family to move her there. Should we really go through that again? And how would we care for her? She’s there because we exhausted home supports, and an assessment concluded she needed long-term care.

And how long would we have to wait to get her back into longterm care – the same long-term care home, to minimize disruption – after the pandemic? So far, thankfully, Mum is well. Still, she and seniors home residents everywhere are already victims of this pandemic, more than most of us.

We can’t visit her because of the precautions. I tell her this every time I call her. I don’t want her to think we’ve abandoned her. But I don’t know if she understands this. I don’t know if she remembers after I hang up.

What if she becomes gravely ill and we can’t be with her? What if she dies without her family there? She lives three hours away, in my hometown, so I call her every other day. But she can’t answer the phone by herself now. So I call the staff and ask them to help her answer it. The last time I called, they were short-staffed.

They managed to connect us, but what about the next call? What happens if multiple staff fall ill or test positive and must be isolated? Will I be able to speak to Mum? What will she think if she doesn’t hear from me? If there are fewer staff and more sick and isolated patients, it will be harder to provide activities for residents who are well, especially given social distancing. Mum went to the exercise class regularly. (“It’s not very strenuous,” she said.) She loved the ice cream socials. She has a sweet tooth.

She told me about their last outing several times. It seemed to breathe new life into her. She just likes looking out the window of the Handi-Transit bus, watching the city and countryside pass by. But there are no outings at long-term care homes now.

Residents in long-term care are isolated regularly because of respiratory and enteric outbreaks. But it will likely be months before this is over. And if there’s a lockdown, staying in a room is a lot more isolating than staying with your family in your house.

I’m not sure if Mum was trying to reassure me when she said she thinks she’s safe. I’m hoping she just doesn’t realize that long-term care homes are emerging at the centre of this pandemic.

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