British Columbia

'It's not OK how we treat our elders': Daughters with family at Lynn Valley Care Centre call for change

A group of daughters with loved ones at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where Canada's first COVID-19 death was recorded and the site of B.C.'s deadliest outbreak, are speaking out about what they say is inadequate care at long-term care homes.

Staff shortages have led to inadequate care, malnutrition, dehydration and soiled diapers, say the women

A group of women with loved ones at the Lynn Valley Care Centre are voicing concerns about inadequate staffing and care at long-term care homes in B.C. From left to right: Deanna Harlow, Debra Drew, Althea Gibb-Carsley, May Mikhail and Kelly Shellard. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A group of daughters with loved ones at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where Canada's first COVID-19 death was recorded, are speaking out about what they say is inadequate care at long-term care homes.

"If we really acknowledge how our elders are cared for it would break our collective hearts because it's not OK. It's not OK how we treat our elders in this developed privileged country," said Althea Gibb-Carsley.

Her 94-year-old mother-in-law Isabelle Mikhail was the eighth resident to die at the care home after testing positive for COVID-19. In total, 52 residents were infected by the virus at the care home and 20 died. 

In an email to CBC News, the Lynn Valley Care Centre said it worked with Vancouver Coastal Health to do everything possible to stop the spread of the virus.

"Like other care facilities, the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged our facility, spreading at an alarming rate, which added to our challenges of getting ahead of the outbreak," read the email.

Althea Gibb-Carsley and May Mikhail are pictured in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, July 6, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When the outbreak was at its worst, these women went in to take care of their family members. They say there was a staff shortage and some of the workers were too afraid to come in, so they were feeding their loved ones, changing them, cleaning up after them and even caring for the other residents who didn't have anyone. 

They did so until the province banned visitors from long-term care homes. Then, they say they had to watch from the sidelines, horrified at what they had witnessed and feeling helpless. 

"Honestly, I think we were quite traumatized for a long, long time and we still are by what we saw, felt and heard," said May Mikhail, Isabelle Mikhail's daughter.

The outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre was declared over on May 5, two months after it started.

"It was the first outbreak in Canada, and came at a time when little was known about the virus and how it spread," said Vancouver Coastal Health in an email to CBC news. 

The health authority says it worked with the home to "mount a quick response to the outbreak and to provide staffing and operational support." 

The group of women says staffing shortages existed pre-COVID but the issue was brought to the forefront once the virus hit. Though some of the workers they say did incredible work, taking on double shifts several days in a row when other staff members didn't show up. 

The care home admits there was a "short period of time" when there were staffing shortages, but said it brought in a professional replacement as soon as possible. 

Vancouver Coastal Health says "extraordinary measures were put in place to restore and maintain staffing levels" and that staffing is now back to normal levels. 

It also says it created a Rapid Response team, which included an infection prevention and control practitioner, a microbiologist, health care workers with expertise in infection prevention and a team co-ordinator. It says they also did broad testing to identify new cases. 

Isabelle Mikhail, in this undated photo, was born and raised in Egypt. She eventually settled in Lethbridge, Alta., to raise her two daughters with her husband. In her late 70s, she started life anew in North Vancouver. (May Mikhail)

Mikhail and Gibb-Carsley say the day after the outbreak at the care home, they came to find Isabelle in the same position they left her in the day before. She was curled up and her diaper had not been changed.

"It was, no exaggeration, it was about this thick," said Gibb-Carsley with her hands wide apart, "it was very heavy, it was cold. She was shivering and she didn't really come back from that." 

While they say, Isabelle was at the end of her life, her final days should not have been as difficult as they were.

Kelly Shellard is pictured in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, July 6, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Many of the residents there have a list of health issues, disabilities or cognitive impairment.

Kelly Shellard's 82-year-old father Bill has dementia. 

He tested positive for COVID-19 early on but survived. He has lost a significant amount of weight and is no more than 109 pounds. She says he spends most of his time sleeping, so he needs someone to check in on him and feed him when he is awake. 

"They don't have the staff to help my dad to thrive. They're just not enough people working," she said.

The social isolation has been incredibly hard for her father, who loves to dance and play cards.

"He just wants to see people. To be stuck in this tiny room it's been very difficult on him and on us," said Shellard, who last week asked the workers to take him outside for some fresh air, but they said they didn't have enough time. 

The social isolation has been incredibly hard for Kelly Shellard's father, Bill. He is used to playing cards with other residents and enjoys dancing. (Kelly Shellard)

The Canadian military filed two reports on the conditions at long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario after they were called in to help. 

In Quebec, it found major challenges in the division between "hot" and "cold" zones, improper use of protective equipment and staffing shortages in the facilities.

A more damning report was filed about the conditions in five Ontario long-term care homes. There were graphic reports of residents being bullied, drugged, improperly fed and, in some cases, left for hours and days in soiled bedding. 

Deanna Harlow and Debbie Drew, whose father is at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, say those problems are not unique to Ontario and Quebec and are happening at care homes here in B.C.

"You could go down the list of that report, and say, yup that happened here, yup, that happened here — and all of these pre-COVID," said Harlow. 

Debra Drew and Deanna Harlow are pictured in North Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, July 6, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Their 96-year-old father Graham Drew is at the care home. He also tested positive for COVID-19 but had a mild case.

Drew is calling for the same level of investigation in B.C. as was done in Quebec and Ontario.

"It didn't need to happen this way and it continues," she said.

Graham Drew, 96, father of Deanna Harlow and Debbie Drew tested positive for COVID-19 while at the Lynn Valley Care Centre. His daughters say he had a mild case. (Debbie Drew)

B.C.'s health minister, Adrian Dix, said on Monday he is certain a review would take place once the pandemic is over.

"There are going to be reviews, of course, of our COVID-19 response, of all of our COVID-19 response once it's over, but we're in the middle of this now and we've got to continue the momentum of making improvements in long-term care", said Dix.

The group of daughters say staff should get more training, better pay and more time to meet the psycho-emotional needs of residents. 

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