Death toll reaches 16 at 82-bed fa­cil­ity near Ot­tawa

Fam­i­lies fear ev­ery phone call

National Post (Latest Edition) - - PAN­DEMIC - An­drew Duffy

The Cox fam­ily fears ev­ery phone call.

De­bra Cox has al­ready lost her fa­ther, Ross Richards, to the COVID-19 out­break at Almonte Coun­try Haven, and she now fears for her mother, Lois, who also has the res­pi­ra­tory disease, and re­mains in lock­down in­side the stricken fa­cil­ity.

“I think all of the fam­i­lies are sit­ting on pins and nee­dles,” Cox said in an in­ter­view Mon­day. “Ev­ery time the phone rings, it’s like, ‘ Oh my God, is that some­one from the home telling me that my mom has passed away?’ ”

The out­break has claimed the lives of 16 res­i­dents of Almonte Coun­try Haven, an 82- bed, for- profit fa­cil­ity in Mis­sis­sippi Mills, about 55 kilo­me­tres south­west of Ot­tawa. The lat­est two deaths were con­firmed Mon­day by the com­pany that op­er­ates the fa­cil­ity, OMNI Health Care Ltd.

“My heart goes out to the fam­i­lies and our en­tire care team as we grap­ple with th­ese losses to­gether,” the home’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, Carolyn Della Foresta, said in a news re­lease.

Thirty- six res­i­dents have tested pos­i­tive for the res­pi­ra­tory virus. All remaining res­i­dents are now be­ing tested, in­clud­ing those who have re­cov­ered from the disease and are no longer ex­hibit­ing symp­toms.

Ross Richards, 79, was among the first to die of COVID-19 at Almonte Coun­try Haven. A re­tired civil ser­vant, Richards suc­cumbed to the res­pi­ra­tory disease on April 6, three days af­ter first ex­hibit­ing flu- like symp­toms.

Her fa­ther, Cox said, had pre­vi­ously suf­fered three small strokes and had short­term mem­ory prob­lems, but was oth­er­wise healthy.

“My dad was so strong: He would have fought this tooth and nail,” said Cox, who was shocked to learn of her fa­ther’s sud­den death. “I still can’t be­lieve it.”

Cox has been des­per­ately wor­ried about her mother ever since — Lois Richards came down with a fever at the same time as her hus­band — but she has had dif­fi­culty get­ting up­dates on her con­di­tion.

“I re­al­ize they’re short­staffed, they’re over­worked, they’re do­ing the best they can. I have no bad words for the staff, but it’s the process, it’s the sys­tem that I’m mad at right now,” Cox said. “With all of th­ese deaths hap­pen­ing, you think they would reach out and say: ‘ Your mom is still OK.’ But I guess they don’t have the time.”

The long- term care home is­sues a daily up­date to fam­i­lies, but the in­for­ma­tion doesn’t speak to the con­di­tion of in­di­vid­ual res­i­dents, Cox said.

Della Foresta was un­able to com­ment Mon­day be­cause of a “per­sonal fam­ily is­sue.” The care home asks fam­i­lies to con­tact the charge nurse for up­dates on loved ones, but Cox said it took her days to get a re­turn call.

The day nurse told her Satur­day that her mother’s fever had gone down, but that her cough per­sisted.

“She has de­men­tia so she doesn’t fully un­der­stand what’s hap­pened to my dad,” Cox said.

“But she did have a few teary-eyed mo­ments, I guess, where she was try­ing to process the fact that her hus­band of 62 years had passed away.”

Ross and Lois Richards were child­hood sweet­hearts: They fell in love in high school in Port Moody, B.C., and mar­ried at 18. They had four chil­dren, in­clud­ing an un­ex­pected set of twins, Steve and Mike.

Af­ter mov­ing to Dart­mouth, N. S., the fam­ily set­tled in Ot­tawa where Ross worked as an an­a­lyst at the Na­tional En­ergy Board, a fed­eral agency cre­ated to reg­u­late Canada’s oil and gas pipe­lines.

He re­tired early and built a large home in Cal­abo­gie, about 105 kilo­me­tres south­west of Ot­tawa, with a view of the ski hill out his kitchen win­dow.

“He did a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing,” his son- in- law, Rick Cox, said of Richards.

He col­lected coins and dogs, and once owned five huskies.

Richards carved trails onto his 400- acre prop­erty and raced around them on snow­mo­biles and four-wheel drive ve­hi­cles.

Richards was still ski­ing at Cal­abo­gie Peaks Re­sort un­til just a few years ago when his health — and that of his wife — started to de­cline.

Richards looked af­ter his wife at home as her de­men­tia pro­gressed, but it took a toll on him: He suf­fered three mini- strokes, and his own short-term mem­ory de­te­ri­o­rated.

The cou­ple re­sisted help un­til, fi­nally, they reached a cri­sis point. Lois Richards moved into Almonte Coun­try Haven last Au­gust.

But Ross Richards couldn’t re­mem­ber what had hap­pened to his wife. He moved into Almonte Coun­try Haven in De­cem­ber. His fam­ily re­joiced that the cou­ple would be to­gether again.

While they waited for a spousal room, the Richards each lived in rooms with three other peo­ple. They were one door away from each other and could visit — un­til the COVID-19 out­break prompted a lock­down.

“It must have been very hard for him be­cause that was his whole goal: Just to be with mom,” said Cox.

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