The frail state of our long-term care homes is magnified during coronavirus crisis

by Matt Del Vecchio

The shocking and tragic news surrounding the centre d’hébergement de soins de longue durée (CHSLD) Herron residence has put a spotlight on the frail state of long-term care homes.

My stomach is in knots. After hearing the details about the deplorable and unimaginable events that quickly unfolded over a matter of weeks at this private CHSLD, I found myself immersed in grief and a terrible sense of guilt. I have personally walked the halls of Herron dozens of times. Never did I see neglect. They provided good care and their staff is compassionate. Families have generally been happy. In fact, there were even a couple obituaries this week singing their praises. 

Have there been complaints in the past? Yes. I think you will also find complaints at almost all CHSLD’s. It is a high care, institutional type environment. It’s emotional for families because we only want the best for our loved ones.

My heart goes out for the families who have lost a loved one. Many are going through the same feelings of grief and terrible guilt although this tragedy is no fault of their own.  I also feel for the employees who were in the middle of this crisis and doing their best. I talked to one of them who claimed she was getting home at 2am some days. I have even heard unconfirmed reports that one of the aides is in hospital on a respirator.

How could this happen?

There is a public inquiry and police investigation. Details will emerge. There have been rumours. Some will prove to be true and some will not. However, there were most likely a series of events at Herron that ultimately led to a rapid deterioration of the residence.

To put things into context, we must first go back to the decision by the government in mid-March to stop allowing visitors into senior residences.  I agreed with this at the time and I agree with it now. However, I said to myself that there had better be a plan in place to make up for the enormous amount of unpaid caregiving hours performed by family and friends in long term care residences. 

In my opinion, the government failed. They focused on shoring up hospitals and clearing out beds for the inevitable influx of COVID patients. They completely underestimated the impact on residents in long term care homes. Employees in these residences could not possibly handle the additional workload. In addition, family members could no longer serve as the eyes and ears for their loved ones.  If there was something to be addressed, they would approach staff and management to address it. Their advocacy was no longer an option.  It was a ticking time bomb in some CHSLD’s.

I also do not want to generalize.  I have talked to many senior residences and CHSLDs this week. Many are COVID-19 free and have taken unprecedented measures to maintain a safe, clean environment.

Screening procedures were put in place at all residences. If an employee had symptoms or showed signs of being infected, they were sent home.  This most likely occurred at Herron where it has been reported there were significant staff shortages.  In addition, many residences did not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, gowns and gloves. The net result at Herron was a critical staff shortage due to a mix of those that were showing symptoms of COVID-19 and employees who chose not to work because they felt they weren’t properly protected.

This begs the question “Why was the government not inspecting this residence?” After all, they were also contracting out beds at Herron for the public system to serve as transition beds. We will get more accurate answers once the inquiries are completed.  What I can say is that the Ministry of Health and Social Services oversees the certification of compliance and the operating standards of public and private CHSLD’s. As part of this certification process, there are periodic “milieu de vie” reviews of each establishment to be sure they are in compliance with their strict standards. When standards are not met, a formal report is submitted to the residence with a specific list of items that need to be addressed along with a timeline that must be adhered to.  Inspectors will also perform surprise visits.

The ball was dropped. The owners need to be accountable as does the Ministry of Health and Social Services.  Families have lost loved ones and we all mourn with them. Let’s hope this will shine a spotlight on long term care homes and the treatment of our elderly. There were underlying problems and a considerable lack of resources prior to this pandemic. COVID-19 was the catalyst. God bless the families that are affected. May we implement changes rapidly so that our elderly can live a more dignified life and let’s pray that other families will never have to live this nightmare.

Matt Del Vecchio is the owner of Lianas Services Senior Transition Support and host of “Life Unrehearsed” on CJAD800 Sundays at 4pm.

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1 Comment on "The frail state of our long-term care homes is magnified during coronavirus crisis"

  1. Excellent article. Certainly leaves food for thought. Could it be that politics cloud issues, much like what we hear from the United States?

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