Hamilton families worry about health of loved ones isolated in long-term care due to COVID-19

Family members of those in long-term care and retirement homes worry about losing touch amid COVID-19 facility closures.

'My mother calls me constantly,' says one family member whose mom is in a retirement home

Thea's husband, Kerry McCrory, and their children on FaceTime with long-term care resident John McCrory. (Supplied by Thea McCrory )

Hamilton long-term care resident John McCrory receives three weekly visits from his grandchildren. But now that all senior care facilities have closed their doors due to COVID-19 concerns, the 85-year-old's visit's last week virtual ones. 

"You can tell that (John) is anxious, he's called several times," said Thea McCrory, John's daughter-in-law. "His grandkids are his top concern, so he's always asking about them and he wants to talk to them on the phone." 

Families with members in senior care facilities told CBC News that they're anxious about COVID-19 spreading in the homes. Additionally, many said that they'd like to receive consistent medical updates and are worried about their loved ones' mental health. 

On Saturday, Hamilton Public Health officials declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Stoney Creek's Heritage Green Nursing Home after a second resident, a 55-year-old female, tested positive for the virus. The first case was reported less than a week ago in an 80-year-old female. 

On March 14, the province's chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams recommended that licensed care facilities prohibit non-essential visitors — all persons except ones visiting those who are dying or very ill — to lower the risk of exposing those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Since then, Thea has also had to stop visits with her grandmother, Martha Ortyl, 91, who is at Extendicare Hamilton. Ortyl has Alzheimer's disease and dementia, which Thea said makes it even harder to be away. 

"We all understand why it's very important that this does happen, we're not angry about it," she said, adding that moving forward she would like to receive weekly updates on her grandmother's well-being. 

"I feel like they're already isolated in the fog of dementia or Alzheimer's disease and that fog is only going to thicken," Thea said, adding that, "It's the mental health as well that's going to be affected when they can't be exposed to the outside world at all." 

Helen Ke, 52, expressed similar concerns about her mother Betty Ke, 82, who is at Stoney Creek's Orchard Terrace retirement home. Though Betty has early-onset Alzheimer's disease, Helen said she's still independent, but likes to have a routine. 

Helen Ke (left) worries about being separated from her mom, Betty, who is in a local retirement home. (Supplied by Helen Ke)

Betty usually goes out with Helen and recently started attending a senior's day program, but all of that has been cancelled. 

"My mother calls me constantly, probably every hour, 'come pick me up, come pick me up…' it gets to a point where it gives me anxiety, so I let it go to voicemail," Helen said, adding that although she's explained the COVID-19 situation to her mom, Betty doesn't fully understand. 

Government protecting seniors in care 

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that $5 million would be invested in retirement homes to protect seniors through increased infection control and active screening. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Tuesday that funds would be supplied to senior homes to increase COVID-19 precautions in protection of seniors. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"We recognize visits provide important social connections and improvements to quality of life for many residents and families may feel frustration, sadness and even anger considering this change," reads a statement Wednesday from minister of health Christine Elliott and minister for seniors and accessibility Raymond Cho.  

"However, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the health and well-being of Ontarians — especially retirement home residents who may be more vulnerable to such diseases, as well as their families and staff — is our number one priority." 

Staying virtually connected

At John's care home, St. Peter's Residence at Chedoke, staff have facilitated FaceTime and Skype calls to help residents and family members cope. 

"We found that this has had a real impact on residents, families and staff included," said St. Peter's Residence administrator Jennifer Banks. "They're very happy to see their loved ones, they're very appreciative that we're taking the initiative." 

Banks added that the home has also increased its recreational staff who are providing one-on-one visits with residents to read or have conversations, all while keeping an appropriate social distance. Staff are also allowed to take residents outside. 

But not all homes have implemented the same measures. Video-calling is something that Helen said she hopes Orchard Terrace will do. 

"I would like to see (her), I just want to make sure she's okay, that she's changed, her hair is brushed, that she's good," Helen said.  

During the city's COVID-19 virtual press conference Monday afternoon, medical officer of health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said the first patient from Heritage Green Nursing Home is still being treated at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, though there is no update on their status.

The second patient is self-isolating and "doing well," Richardson said, adding that it's unlikely they will be able to confirm if the second patient got infected from the first even though both residents live on the same floor. 

About the Author

Jennifer La Grassa


Jennifer La Grassa is a reporter/editor for CBC Windsor. Email: jennifer.lagrassa@cbc.ca