Vancouver Sun


`Prison­ers are treated bet­ter,' in­quiry told

- LIAM CASEY Society · Canada News · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Ontario · Long-Term Capital Management · Virginia · Toronto · Keswick

One by one, res­i­dents of On­tario's long- term care homes de­scribed the emo­tional dev­as­ta­tion caused by the COVID-19 lock­down to an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry — and im­plored the gov­ern­ments to ad­dress iso­la­tion be­fore the sec­ond wave of COVID-19 crashes down.

Lonely, de­pressed, muz­zled and trapped are some of the words the res­i­dents used to describe the pan­demic to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Com­mis­sion by video con­fer­ence.

“Now when I see these dog cages on TV for stray an­i­mals, I see my­self as one of these ne­glected, filthy, and starv­ing-for-love-and-af­fec­tion lit­tle crit­ters,” said Vir­ginia Par­raga, who lives in a long-term care home in Toronto.

“I now weep for our hu­man race and mankind.”

The novel coro­n­avirus ripped through the prov­ince's long-term care homes over­whelm­ing the sys­tem and killing more than 1,900 res­i­dents, as of Thurs­day. Se­vere staff short­ages, crum­bling in­fras­truc­ture and lack of over­sight were some of the fac­tors that con­trib­uted to the mass COVID-19 out­breaks in those fa­cil­i­ties.

The com­mis­sion, led by for­mer Su­pe­rior Court judge Frank Mar­rocco, will in­ves­ti­gate how COVID-19 spread in the long-term care sys­tem and come up with rec­om­men­da­tions.

Barry Hick­ling, one of the res­i­dents who tes­ti­fied last week, spoke of the long-last­ing ef­fect of the lock­down.

“I hope that this will be a tremen­dous learning ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us, but the pain will not go away. It will stay,” he said.

“It will tor­ment us be­cause of the po­ten­tial for an­other wave or po­ten­tial of some­one bring­ing some­thing into a long-term care home.”

Hick­ling, who has lived in a long-term care home in Wind­sor, Ont., for the past 10 years, said the gov­ern­ment should take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to fix the prob­lems.

“We are iso­lated, alone, with­out fam­ily or friends to visit with us,” he said. “I don't want to go through this ever in my life again. And I pray and hope that, by gosh, if there is an­other wave, let's deal with it ad­e­quately, ap­pro­pri­ately, ef­fi­ciently, and di­rectly.”

The prov­ince eased vis­i­ta­tion re­stric­tions sev­eral months into the pan­demic, but many homes con­tin­ued with the lock­down, the in­quiry heard.

The prov­ince re­cently an­nounced new re­stric­tions on homes in COVID-19 hot spots, lim­it­ing vis­i­tors to staff, es­sen­tial vis­i­tors and care­givers.

Carolyn Snow, who lives at a long-term care fa­cil­ity in Keswick, Ont., said the iso­la­tion felt like liv­ing be­hind bars.

“Ex­cept that prison­ers are treated bet­ter,” said Snow.

She said her sis­ter-in-law, who was stay­ing at an­other long-term care home, con­tracted the novel coro­n­avirus and died.

“It went from not be­ing too con­cerned to be­ing dev­as­tated,” Snow said.

The res­i­dents also de­scribed a litany of prob­lems in­side the homes.

Res­i­dents could not so­cial­ize with their friends, ate soggy meals alone in their rooms and watched end­less tele­vi­sion, said Shar­ron Cooke, the pres­i­dent of the On­tario As­so­ci­a­tion of Res­i­dents' Coun­cils who lives at a fa­cil­ity in New­mar­ket, Ont.

She said the lack of ac­tiv­ity and stim­u­la­tion “left res­i­dents dor­mant and sleep­ing all the time.”

Sev­eral res­i­dents said they were left in the dark with min­i­mal in­for­ma­tion or com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the homes.

“Just to be left in a room and not know what is past the walls has caused a lot of emo­tional con­cern,” Cooke said.

The com­mu­ni­ca­tion vac­uum left vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents con­fused and dis­ori­ented.

“The res­i­dents didn' t know what day it was, what time it was,” Cooke said. “They were look­ing for night­ies at noon be­cause they couldn't fig­ure out what time of day it was.”

Hick­ling said staff short­ages led to two mix-ups with his med­i­ca­tion, which if he hadn't no­ticed, would have left him in a great deal of pain.

Mar­rocco asked the res­i­dents for ideas on how to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion in the homes.

Hick­ling said the key is to take care of staff, who then in turn can take bet­ter care of the res­i­dents.

“If they are not be­ing cared for, if they are not tak­ing the swabs and be­ing tested in any other way, that is our lives,” Hick­ling said. “That is where we live. They bring it in. They take it out. What­ever they are do­ing was fright­en­ing.”

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