For 99-year-old Joni Absoth’s father, living in a Toronto-based long-term care facility has become a series of isolation lockdowns, where a single positive COVID-19 test from a staff member can mean imprisonment for some residents.
Indeed, she said that her father John, whose room was closed and closed, had not been outside since September.
“What we are doing to the elderly right now is jail them. There is no other word for it,” Absoth said.
On Friday, the Ontario COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission – which investigated how and why the virus ravaged nursing homes and what measures were taken to prevent its spread – is set to submit its report to the government . It will be up to the Ministry of Long-Term Care to publish it.
But ahead of the report, residents’ family members and advocates are already calling on the government to take specific action, maintain some policies put in place during the pandemic and relax others.
“There was a lot of commitments made, a lot of good feedback, but very, very little action,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Health Care, a healthcare union representing more than 60,000 frontline workers. line.
The assessment of isolation
The province’s auditor general already released a damning report earlier this week that Ontario’s long-term care sector and the ministry overseeing it were not “prepared or equipped” to handle the litany of problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among his discoveries:
- Residents lived in rooms with three or four occupants.
- Long-term care homes did not have enough staff and training to provide appropriate care.
- Preventing families from coming to their homes had an emotional and physical impact on residents and their families.
Absoth said the government still had to change its rules that isolate residents considered to be close contact in the event of an epidemic, which is now defined as two positive cases linked to housing.
She said the isolation lasts for almost two weeks, until health officials test negative from everyone on that floor. While she is very happy with the care her father receives at Harmony Hills Care Community, she is very concerned about what these government-imposed restrictions are doing to her physical and mental health.
In an email to UKTN News, Aslan Hart, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care, said residents who are not in segregation can leave the house to walk around the immediate area, including included during an epidemic.
The problem for some residents like John Absoth, however, is that since the fall they have been repeatedly forced to self-isolate, even though they are now vaccinated, according to his daughter Joni.
“By the time the lockdown occurs or is lifted, they may have had another positive case,” she said.
These restrictions, she said, must be “lifted immediately” and allow residents, who are all vaccinated, to mingle with others outside of their rooms.
In an email to UKTN News, Nadia Daniell-Colarossi, spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living, owner of Harmony Hills Care Community, said her staff are “very sensitive to how difficult this can be for residents. “.
She said they “continue to go above and beyond to tailor daily routines and special occasions to provide them with compassion and bond with loved ones.”
Meanwhile, about 75% of Harmony Hills staff received their first dose of the vaccine, while 95% of residents received both doses, she said.
Dr Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network, said those restrictions, which included limiting visits from family members, had profound effects on residents’ mental health and included worsening loneliness, social isolation, depression and dementia.
Now that nearly all residents are vaccinated and the risk of outbreaks has dramatically reduced, Sinha said the burden of the restrictions was probably doing more harm than good.
“And I think a lot of people are giving up hope because we don’t reopen our homes like we should.”
She said the province should reopen the homes because, ironically, during this third wave they “are the safest place to be in Ontario.”
Staffing is the key to change
Pat Armstrong, professor of sociology at York University and expert in long-term care, said of the factors that lead to high death rates: “I don’t think there have been very many changes. “
The Ontario government has pledged in four years to implement new guidelines that would include a minimum of four hours of direct nursing care per resident per day.
“Four years is a very long time,” she said.
Armstrong expressed concern over the government’s announcement last weekend that it was removing restrictions that required personal support workers in long-term care facilities to work one facility at a time.
Without these restrictions, many part-time workers are forced to work in more than one location and carry infections, she said.
“So the things we thought were really important to prevent infections and improve the quality of care are not in place permanently,” said Armstrong.
“There is no doubt that the biggest change has to be in staffing, in their numbers, their salaries, their benefits.”
But Armstrong believes it will be difficult to recruit staff in Ontario’s long-term care homes.
“We have heard such horror stories. I think it will be difficult to get people to come in there, to live there. I think it will be difficult to make people work.
Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Health Care, said that since the onset of the pandemic, there has been no sense of urgency on the part of the government to deal with a long-term care staffing crisis.
“This is the number one problem when you see how quickly this pandemic has been able to spread through these homes.”
With the government allowing long-term care staff to work in more than one location, instead of giving them full-time jobs, “you wonder what has been learned in the past 13 months,” said Stewart.
But Hart, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care, said the government is investing nearly $ 5 billion in staffing, which adds up to more than 27,000 new positions, to provide four hours of direct care daily. to residents.
She said the government had invested $ 321 million in temporary pandemic compensation for long-term care home staff, which will run until June 30, 2021, “when the government reviews improvement for inform the next steps “.
What’s more, thanks to pandemic payroll alone, Ontario’s long-term care homes hired more than 8,600 employees between April 24, 2020 and August 13, 2020, Hart said.
Some long-term care facilities still have rooms for three to four people, a concern to contain the spread of a virus. But Hart said when the beds in these rooms become vacant, new admissions will not be placed in there, and that these rooms are being phased out and refitted to modern design standards.