The devastation caused by COVID-19 in seniors’ homes and long-term care or retirement homes across Ontario is emerging as a primary crisis of the pandemic.
On April 14, federal health authorities confirmed that nearly half of Canada’s 735 COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care homes, and the number of deaths is expected to rise.
“We’re dealing with a wildfire at our long-term care homes,” said Premier Doug Ford.
As of April 21, summary of cases of COVID-19 showed that 20.9 per cent of cases were individuals in the demographic of 80 years of age and older. Patients in the age group of 60 to 79 years of age make up 22.9 per cent of the confirmed cases in Ontario.
In a Public Health study of confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks reported in long-term care homes or retirement homes, the total number of cases reported as part of the 121 confirmed outbreaks hit 2,069 as of April 21. Of these outbreaks, 2,069 cases have been reported at long-term care homes and a total of 274 deaths related to COVID-19.
Of those cases, 1,394 were reported among residents and 671 among staff at long-term care or retirement homes.
The province promises more funding, testing and equipment to assist staff looking after seniors.
Based on epidemiology studies for the province of Ontario, 417 individuals or 17 per cent of reported deaths are in ages 80 years of age and over. Deaths reported in ages 60 to 79 years of age make up 6.4 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 related deaths as of April 21.
In other provinces in Canada, similar trends have been recorded. In Quebec, 70 per cent of COVID-19 deaths are in long-term care or seniors’ residences.
Ontario reports a total of 11,735 cases in the province.
Huron Perth Public Health’s records reveal that a total of 36 cases in the region have been confirmed as of April 21.
Long-term senior homes such as Goderich Place, Maitland Manor and Harbour Hill have no confirmed cases as of April 22. Residents and staff would like to keep it that way.
Goderich Place’s response to COVID-19 was early and rigorous, and staff members believe this is part of the reason the residence remains virus free.
According to Goderich Place, residents have all responded differently to measures taken during the pandemic. Most understand the seriousness of the crisis and understand that adhering to the isolation measures is essential for their protection.
Earlier in March, Goderich Place began restricting access and implementing measures. As the risk of contracting COVID-19 increased across the province, Goderich Place increased their measures, in accordance with direction from the Ministry of Health.
The long-term care residence perform temperature checks twice a day for all employees and residents, all group activities have been cancelled, visitor access to the building is limited and residents remain isolated in their suites. Staff members bring activities such as hallway bingo, books, games and video calls to their door to help them cope with isolation.
Willing to speak on the experience at Goderich Place, a few residents spoke highly on the quick-action of staff and management to not only keep them safe, but to help cope with isolation:
- “In this time of crisis I reflect on other times of tragedy – polio epidemic, WWII, SARS. Many rules have been set, which we do not particularly like, but management is doing all this for our own good. The staff goes beyond the call of duty.”
- “I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for proactive action at getting safety directives out so early. Now that we are isolated to our units, I feel thankful being a resident in Goderich Place at this difficult time.”
- “Goderich Place reacted very quickly to the threat of COVID-19 by isolating us as much as possible and still providing everything needed for a healthy and enjoyable life. I cannot thank them enough for being with us during these difficult times.”
- “How does this vibrant retirement community survive and thrive in isolation during a pandemic? Just like we have survived into our senior years. We accept what we cannot change, and we get creative with what we can.”
- “For seniors who have lived through war, recessions, 9/11 and many unprecedented issues, this time of isolation in Goderich Place has given us a greater time of solitude. We are thinking and praying for our loved ones and especially the many thousands of COVID-19 victims. What we are learning are those essential things we lose sight of when we get busy – a smile can light up a room, even from a distance, it can help others.”
- “The pandemic already tells us that mother earth is suffering and we need to be a part of what the post-pandemic world will become. We know it belongs to our children and our children’s children, but together we can create a better world.”
Josef Ger, CEO of Retirement Life Group of Companies, owner of Goderich Place, explains that restrictions and isolation measures have been difficult on everyone, and staff members remain committed to keeping the residents safe.
“It’s been amazing to watch people come together and go above and beyond to support one another. Everyone is really coming together to help manage the increased responsibilities,” added Ger.
Goderich Place will continue to follow guidelines from health officials, while offering resources for those residents and staff who are experiencing anxiety.
Harbour Hill Retirement Community in Goderich remains focused on the care and safety of its residents.
Focused on what’s needed during the pandemic, staff and management are working longer hours to ensure stringent rules put in place by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and provincial health officials are adhered to.
According to a spokesperson for Harbour Hill, from the start of the pandemic, management and staff focused on physical distancing rather than social distancing with an aim to minimize the toll isolation can have on people.
Harbour Hill stated: “So far we are coping and our residents and their families are understanding and appreciative of the work the team is doing. People know we are caring for the most vulnerable. The bottom line is, if people don’t stay home, don’t physically distance themselves or heed the advice from public health officials, they are effectively saying going out is more important than life itself.”
Harbour Hill has been using technology to ensure residents aren’t feeling the full impact of isolation. WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom and even Facebook Live have all enabled many residents at Harbour Hill to connect with their families.
Harbour Hill reported that there weren’t any cases of COVID-19 in the building and this can be accredited to the swift decision making of Harbour Hill’s VP Operations Neil Barran, President and COO Kevin Pidgeon, at the request of GM Vida Proctor and her team.
“Vida’s swift decision making was jarring to families at first, but as the news of the strength of this virus was released, they quickly realized it was the only path available that made any sense.”
There are not enough beds, doctors, nurses, or respirators around to manage what will happen if the surge hits hard – particularly so in Huron County. Residents remind the community that these are reasons to stay home, in order to manage the flow of patients into local hospitals.
Harbour Hill has seen the community support by way of individuals bringing banners, cards, songs and gifts to the doors of the facility.
A spokesperson at Harbour Hill explains: “We love our community and feel loved and supported. We will always continue to put the health of our community at the forefront of all our decisions.”
Increased and widespread testing for COVID-19 remains a critical step in protecting residents and staff at Maitland Manor.
Management of Maitland Manor shares the provincial government’s desire to see testing scaled up on the long-term sector in order to understand what actions to take in containing and reducing the spread of the virus.
In the 29 Southbridge Care Homes, one of which is Maitland Manor that have no cases, management maintains a strong focus on preventing the virus from entering these homes.
Southbridge Care Homes understand that increased measures must be taken to save lives and the sole focus at all times is to protect the health and safety of residents and staff members.
Existing protocols have been strengthened for protective measures. Staff members are screened for any symptoms of illness and temperatures of all staff are taken upon entering and leaving the building. Part-time staff has been transitioned to full-time hours and employees are not to work at other homes.
All residents at Maitland Manor are closely monitored for symptoms of COVID-19. At this time, only essential visitors are permitted into the long-term care home following screening and provision of adequate PPE.
Following protocols outlined by Huron Perth Public Health and the Ministry of Health, Maitland Manor’s top priority is protecting the health of everyone at the long-term care home.
“The transition to these enhanced protocols along with the restrictions of visitors to ‘essential only’ did require an adjustment period for our residents and staff, but they know these have been put into place for their protection,” explains Richard Franzke, VP Communications with Southbridge Health Care.
“The Maitland Manor staff have always worked collectively as a team and have certainly risen to the occasion. Our staff understands how important their roles are as front line workers during this time.”
Staff members remain cognizant of the mental health issues for residents as a result of the challenges of isolation and uncertainty caused by the restrictions. Maitland Manor has been working proactively to minimize the effects.
Small group activities continue in the home, and the group numbers are set low to ensure residents can still participate in activities while maintain a distance of up to two meters from each other. In addition, Maitland Manor has increased their one-to-one program with residents to help bridge gaps left by the visitor restrictions.
As the three local long-term care homes and senior residences have increased measures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and the community continues to heed the advice of health officials by practicing social distancing, the provincial government recently announced additional relief to be provided for Ontario’s most vulnerable.
On April 21, the provincial government announced that much-needed support in the way of funding and services would be delivered to vulnerable seniors including seniors and persons with disabilities.
The province is investing $11 million and doubling the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments to help deliver meals, medicines and other essentials during the crisis.
“As we face some of the darkest times in our province’s history, we have a duty to protect and care for the most vulnerable in our society,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“Our seniors and people with disabilities are the most at risk during this crisis and we must go above and beyond to ensure they get financial relief, food, medicine and other essentials without delay.”
Furthermore, the province partnered with the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) is set to launch a new support program to expand the existing Meals on Wheels service.
The new program will develop the capacity of community organizers to help deliver medication and other essentials.
“We know that the best way we can all take care of ourselves during this outbreak is to stay home,” admitted Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility.
“For older Ontarians and people with disabilities, this may be especially challenging.”
The province is also issuing the first doubled GAINS payment – individuals will receive up to $166 per month and couples will receive up to $332 per month.
These payments will continue for six months and provide an additional $75 million to 194,000 vulnerable seniors who need more help to cover essential expenses during the outbreak. The first payment will start to arrive at the end of April.
“Our government is taking decisive action to protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations,” said Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
“If you have a friend or neighbour who is a senior or a person with a disability, please reach out to them to ensure they have what they need and are doing okay during this very difficult period.”