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Workers are ‘terrified,’ families feel helpless as COVID-19 deaths begin to spike again in long-term-care homes

Posted: November 15, 2020

(November 14, 2020)

By: Gilbert Ngabo, The Star

John Bateman's wife Norma on a recent visit at The Village of Erin Meadows home in Mississauga.

John Bateman’s family is very worried.

For the past few days, the 81-year-old resident of The Village of Erin Meadows retirement home in Mississauga has developed a fever. But when the family tried to get him tested for COVID-19, they were told there weren’t any testing kits available.

“It’s very stressful and we are really concerned about what is going to happen to his life going forward,” said his daughter Sarah Bateman.

She has first-hand experience with outbreaks in long-term care.

Back in March when COVID-19 first hit and healthcare officials were scrambling to stop its spread, her father was sharing a room with someone who had tested positive. Soon after, he contracted the virus and Bateman says home care management wouldn’t let the family take her father to the hospital, saying they would not welcome him back.

“They basically pretty much put him on (his) death bed,” she said.

Bateman’s claims and those of other residents at Erin Meadows are represented in a class action lawsuit launched by Will Davidson LLP, alleging the facility failed to implement measures to prevent COVID-19 infections. That failure, the lawsuit alleges, put residents’ life at risk and contributed to the outbreak that caused 21 deaths at the facility, which is owned by Schlegel Villages Inc., by June.

The claims have not been proven in court. The company has repeatedly said it has followed the “guidance and protocols set out by government and public health officials” and that the allegations will be addressed through the “proper legal processes.”

Bateman has recovered, but now that Ontario is reporting more COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes, his family is fearing the worst during the second coming of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, it was reported that an outbreak at Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home in Scarborough caused 29 deaths and a total of 92 positive cases among its residents in a span of one month.

A recent Star analysis of available data showed that for-profit long-term care homes — both Kennedy Lodge and Erin Meadows are as owned by private companies — are seeing worse outcomes than the non-profit facilities.

During the second wave, residents in private homes are three times more likely to catch the virus than those in non-profit homes, and the death toll is also higher, according to the analysis.

One of the major reasons the outbreaks are returning in full force in the second wave is because an increasing number of personal support workers (PSWs) are getting overwhelmed and giving up, said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, the union representing frontline workers.

“The workers are terrified. We are at a worse staff crisis level now than we were back when the first wave hit us,” said Stewart, who noted that about 30 per cent of staff in nursing homes are not returning to work for fear of risking their lives and those of their families.