Death toll reaches 16 at 82-bed facility near Ottawa
Families fear every phone call
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.