Families at Scarborough long-term care centre, where a recent COVID-19 epidemic killed at least 62 residents, shared their experiences at a town hall meeting on Sunday evening.
The ‘Save our Seniors’ town hall gave several families the opportunity to talk about their experiences and the challenges they face as they try to get information about their loved ones after the outbreak was announced at the Tendercare Living Centre. It was organized by Scarborough Southwest NDP MPP Doly Begum and Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care home advocate and social science professor at Ontario Tech University.
During the virtual meeting, which lasted about two hours, many of them said the lack of communication and transparency from Extendicare, which operates the facility, caused great confusion during the early days of the outbreak.
North York General Hospital, which recently took over the management of the long-term care home, confirmed the total number of deaths at Tendercare since the outbreak began on Dec. 9 to 62.
Unable to hold back tears, Reed Zhao shared that his 96-year-old grandmother died Sunday morning after a fight with COVID-19.
When he spoke to her on the last phone last week, she told Zhao that they were only giving her cold water that she could not drink.
According to him, everything changed after his grandmother was transferred from her room to the isolation area of the facility.
“As a family, we deserve to know how they were treated”, He said.
Another family member shared about how it took six days before the management informed them that his mother had tested positive for COVID-19. Another family member was needed to call home before the test results were determined.
The granddaughter of another resident also faced a similar problem because his family was not informed that his grandmother had COVID-19.
Her grandmother died on Christmas morning. On that day, she said, “it was a very rushed call. You could tell that the nurse on the line needed to get back to the other residents that were still there on that floor and still fighting.”
All the families expressed their frustrations with Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of Long-Term Care who admitted in an interview that communication in nursing homes was disrupted. However, he defended the government’s fight against the pandemic.
When a family member was asked what he wants from Fullerton, he said the minister needs to come out and speak with families, calling the statements she had previously issued ‘nonsense.’
Stamatopoulos said COVID-19 did not cause the condition of these homes. Rather, it focused on what had happened over the years.
“We need to hold this home accountable because these deaths should not have happened. And these families deserve a modicum of justice. And right now, they’re not even getting a basic appreciation of what they went through — the pain,” Stamatopoulos said.
According to Stamatopoulos, at a crucial time in Ontario’s second wave, the government should once again call on the military to help long-term care homes dealing with outbreaks.
Doly Begum urged Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton to take part in the town hall.
Fullerton did not attend Sunday’s virtual town hall.
After the virtual meeting, Doly Begum and Stamatapoulos sent an open letter to Fullerton, sharing the stories the families shared and what they’ve learned. They also called on the minister to use $12 billion in unallocated funding to stabilize long-term care homes hard hit by the pandemic.
“If you are still unable to fulfil your duty to take every necessary action to keep long-term care residents safe, then do the right thing and resign from this role. Long-term care residents and their staff deserve better,” the two wrote.