Calgary

'Lean on me': Loved ones serenade seniors outside care home with COVID-19 outbreak

They stood on the sidewalks or leaned out of the sunroofs of their cars, swaying to the music and waving at the windows of the McKenzie Towne care home.

They brought some cheer — from a distance — to seniors and staff inside the McKenzie Towne facility

Visitors sing 'Lean On Me' to the residents of the McKenzie Towne care home in southeast Calgary. The home is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

They stood on the sidewalks or leaned out of the sunroofs of their cars, swaying to the music and waving at the windows of the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre.

"Lean on me, when you're not strong. And I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on," they sang along, the lyrics blasting from one of the car's speakers, serenading their elderly loved ones from afar.

An outbreak at the continuing care facility, located in southeast Calgary, rose to 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday with more test results pending. The first confirmed case at the home was a woman in her 80s, who died Tuesday, just two days after developing symptoms. 

"This just lifts your spirits," said Craig Gauvreau, whose parents and uncle live in the facility.

WATCH | Visitors sing to seniors outside a care home experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak

Loved ones sang to seniors at the McKenzie Towne care home in Calgary on March 28, 2020. The home is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. 0:37

Gauvreau came in from High River, Alta., on Saturday, to check in and try and bring some cheer — from a distance — to those in the seniors' home. 

"They're having a hard time in there with just basic care. They're delivering their meals in, but they don't get all the attention they need," he said, adding he has heard that nearly two dozen staff members have been sent home due to exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

A sign hangs on the fence outside the McKenzie Towne Long Term Care Home in southeast Calgary, which is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. (Jennifer Wiebe)

Revera, which operates the long-term care facility, said in a statement posted to its website last week that staff are wearing PPE and residents are self-isolating in their rooms. 

Dining rooms and recreational programs have been shut down, and residents are being delivered meal trays in their rooms.

But some family members of residents have raised concerns, saying that they don't feel the facility is taking proper precautions.

One resident who wasn't able to witness Saturday's sing-along was Shauna Parks' 78-year-old mother, because no nurse was available to move her to a wheelchair to bring her to the window, her daughter said.

The 78-year-old, who was moved into the care home just last week despite the family's concerns because a bed became available, has tested positive for COVID-19.

"She's weak, she's very low energy, she quite frankly looks grey," Parks said.

Parks said she has reached out to Revera and the government to beg for more support for the hardworking staff at the care home, who she said are stretched thin, and to ask that all staff and residents be tested.

We don't want to wait until it's too late and I fear that we've waited too long now.- Shauna Parks, daughter of a McKenzie Towne care home resident.

"It's very clear to us the facility is lacking staff and resources in order to manage the outbreak there … while we've facetimed with our mother we've seen nurses walk into her room with no protective gear on and this was after they knew she was being tested [for COVID-19]," she said, adding that her mother has received pain medication and insulin hours late this week. 

Parks said she was never notified by Revera of the outbreak at the home until after she heard about it through the media.

Parks said she and her brother, who has power of attorney for their mother, have contacted Revera with their concerns.

"More needs to be done," Parks said. "We don't want to wait until it's too late and I fear that we've waited too long now."

Care home working to address staff shortage

Revera said in an emailed statement that it appreciates this is a stressful time for residents, their families and staff, and is working closely with Alberta Health Services.

"It is true that with the additional measures introduced since the outbreak that we are short-staffed, and we are working to address this issue. That said, this staffing situation should not impact the delivery of medication in any significant way and our records indicate this," reads the emailed statement from Dr. Rhonda Collins, Revera's chief medical officer.

"We test all residents and staff as soon as any new respiratory condition is presented. Our outbreak protocols require all healthcare workers to wear personal protective equipment when in close contact with a resident who is in isolation, and we are following this practice."

Long-term care homes are vulnerable to outbreaks because frail residents live in close quarters that can facilitate the spread of infections, and the elderly are particularly at risk of negative outcomes if they contract the illness.

Alberta has limited visitors to long-term care facilities to one essential visitor per resident, and children are no longer allowed to visit.

There are 661 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, and 41 people have been hospitalized as of Sunday.

With files from Terri Trembath

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