Anguished families look for answers…
Reed Zhao’s 96-year-old grandmother succumbed to COVID-19 on Sunday morning, one of the latest residents to die at Tendercare nursing home, which has now seen 62 deaths since an outbreak of the disease was declared Dec 8.
Zhao wiped away a tear after announcing the death to an online town hall for families of Tendercare residents organized by local Scarborough Southwest MPP Doly Begum Sunday evening.
“She was crying on the phone, telling me: ‘they didn’t give me water. I like hot water. I cannot drink cold water.’ She kept saying that,” Zhao said.
Like many of the family members who patched into the online event, Zhao’s grief was punctuated by anger at the way the nursing home treated his grandmother and failed to communicate with him over her final days.
Zhao wasn’t allowed to visit and couldn’t reach his grandmother for days before he learned that she had tested positive for COVID.
She went from being “loud and clear over the phone,” to being “so weak she could barely speak,” Zhao said. “I didn’t know what happened in those three days when she was transferred out of her room to that isolation area of the building.”
“As family, we deserve to know how they were treated,” he said. “I don’t believe them when they say, ‘we’ve been doing our best’ … They’re not doing their best.”
The Ontario government announced earlier this week that North York General Hospital would be taking over management of Tendercare, a long term care home operated by Extendicare, one of the large for-profit chains operating in the province. The province says the arrangement will help address the outbreak and stabilize the situation.
But families of Tendercare residents aren’t convinced. Last week, they protested outside the nursing home to call attention to the outbreak, which has infected 98 staff members and 119 residents in the 254-bed home.
During the town hall, family members described calling the home for news about their loved ones and not being able to get through as the phones weren’t picked up. Several of them also said they reached out to their provincial members of parliament, but didn’t hear back.
Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate professor at Ontario Tech University who researches long-term-care, said the situation at Tendercare is “a mass casualty event, the equivalent of a downed plane. Yet we hear nothing from our elected representatives.”
“This was preventable.”
“The for-profit large chain ownership homes are the worst offenders and have been failing this COVID test, so to speak, in wave one and now again in wave two. And there seems to be zero penalties for failing these families,” said Stamatopoulos during the town hall.
“This is wrong. We need to hold this home accountable because these deaths should not have happened.”
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Star investigations have shown that for-profit nursing homes have more than double the death rate of non-profit and publicly-run facilities. At the same time, the three biggest for-profit chains have paid out more than $170 million to shareholders during the pandemic, while receiving COVID-19 bailout money from the government.
The Star first reported that the staffing situation was so dire at Tendercare a doctor sent out an SOS message to colleagues to come work a shift at the home. She described the home as a “war zone” where infected and uninfected patients were mixed together and there was no oxygen to administer to patients who required it.
A provincial inspector was dispatched to the home on Dec. 16 and later released a report detailing widespread non-compliance with mandated LTC health orders, including failure to change PPE by personal support workers going between rooms, improper disposal of PPE, absence of PPE caddies and only one size of gloves available.
“As a result, the disease spread rapidly throughout the home and there were a number of resident deaths and also a number of residents who have tested positive for the outbreak resulting in actual risk for the residents. The risk associated to the staff not adhering to the homes IPAC (infection prevention and control) program would be possible transmission of infectious agents during the ongoing outbreak in the home,” the report said.
There are currently 64 active resident cases in the long-term care home, according to a statement issued by North York General Hospital, and 55 resolved cases.
There have also been 64 resolved cases among staff while 34 staff have COVID-19. North York General said 20 staff have since returned to work, with more expected in the following days.
“Today, there continue to be positive signs that the outbreak measures and management processes put in place over the last nine days since the Voluntary Management Agreement was signed with North York General are limiting the outbreak and helping to ensure the safety and care of residents,” the release said.
The statement said there have been zero COVID-19 cases among residents and staff for four consecutive days now.
Ontario reported COVID-19 outbreaks in an additional 19 long-term-care homes, taking the total up to 207 homes with outbreaks across the province.
In the province’s latest data released Sunday morning, it reported a total of 1,140 confirmed active positive cases among LTC residents and 12 new deaths.
Additionally, 121 more staff members have tested positive since Saturday, taking that total number up to 1,130, a nearly 12 per cent increase.
With files from Akrit Michael and the Canadian Press
Libaan Osman is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach him via email: [email protected]
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