Deaths mount from Rosslyn outbreak; families also worry where recovered residents will live

An 87-year-old woman and 86-year-old woman both died on June 3, according to public health.

Retirement home is the site of Hamilton's deadliest COVID-19 outbreak

A paramedic pushes a stretcher into the Rosslyn Retirement Residence in Hamilton, Ont. on May 15. Health-care staff spent the next eight hours transferring residents from the home to hospital. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

As the number of deaths from the COVID-19 outbreak at the Rosslyn Retirement Residence mounts, families with loved ones recovering in hospital are wrestling with another worry — where will they go if they survive?

Two more residents have died of COVID-19, bringing the number of deaths connected to the home to 12. It's the site of Hamilton's deadliest outbreak.

But for Rosslyn residents who recover, there's no clear answer for where they will be able to live after leaving hospital, with the home still closed and struggling to meet public health COVID-19 safety requirements.

"There are no updates to share at this time about a plan for the affected residents," said Hamilton Public Health spokesperson Kelly Anderson in an email to CBC, adding information would be provided "when we have more details about next steps."

The Retirement Home Regulatory Authority (RHRA), says it's part of discussions about what to do with residents who are able to leave hospital.

"Should alternative arrangements be required when residents are ready to be discharged, the RHRA will continue to assist," said communications manager Phil Norris.

The privately-owned home near Gage Park was evacuated on May 15 with the majority of people being transported to hospital amid an outbreak that infected all but two of the 66 residents along with 22 staff members.

With the home empty, that outbreak was declared over on May 29, but many seniors are still recovering in hospital and hoping to test negative.

Two of those hospitalized residents, an 87-year-old woman and 86-year-old woman, died on June 3, according to public health. Forty people have died of COVID-19 in Hamilton to date.

The Rosslyn, which is associated with the Martino family, has not responded to repeated calls and emails raising questions about the outbreak at the home and its plans to reopen. 

The home has been ordered to improve infection prevention and control by both public health and the RHRA, which which pointed to issues with "infection prevention and control and failure to protect residents from neglect."

During a further inspection of the kitchen last Friday health officials uncovered black mould, mouse droppings and "fuzzy dust," resulting in it being closed until the problems could be addressed.

A re-inspection of the home still hasn't been scheduled and won't be until the operator of the home lets public health know they've corrected the issues identified in the orders and is looking to start bringing residents back, explained Anderson.

The 64-unit home was completely emptied on May 15. The majority of residents remain in hospital. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

It's not clear how many, if any, of the residents infected have recovered sufficiently to be able to be discharged.

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton said it was housing 30 residents from the home on Thursday.

However, the hospital's website lists 25 cases of COVID-19. When asked to explain the difference a spokesperson said simply "some cases of COVID have been resolved."

Maria Hayes did not directly respond to a question asking whether the hospital is still hosting Rosslyn residents who have recovered, but said patients requiring an "alternate level of care" don't put pressure on bed availability at St. Joe's.

"We are working closely with our patients, their families and our community partners to transition patients to the community," she said, adding the hospital had opened up beds in anticipation of a surge in COVID-19 patients

Hamilton Health Sciences previously told CBC that 24 Rosslyn residents were hospitalized there, but on Thursday said that number had dropped to 22.

Families 'blind' about plan for loved ones 

Worries about where their loved ones will receive care after they recover is a "huge" concern for the families of Rosslyn residents, according to Brian Melnike, who's been using social media to stay in contact with families in the same situation.

"That's one of the main questions on the chat group right now: Where are they going to place these people?"

It's a difficult question to consider, especially for those who feel not enough was done to protect their loved ones at the home or to communicate with them once people there started testing positive.

Melnike's mother Joan Wallace is currently at the General Hospital. Her dementia and overall condition has worsened since being confined to her room at the Rosslyn and now a hospital bed, he said.

During a previous conversation with CBC he fought tears while describing a conversation with his mother at the hospital.

"It was probably the worst phone call I've ever had in my entire life," he said, adding the 87-year-old was speaking gibberish. "She spent the entire time crying. It was a very tough conversation."

Given his mother's needs and a hope that a familiar setting might help her, Melnike said he believes a return to the home might be a good thing her, at least in the short-term.

"From the perspective of somebody that's incredibly pissed off with the Rosslyn, at this point I still think for my mother it is the best place to go for the familiarity …How long she will be there I don't know."

Brian Melnike says he and his wife Tracy raised questions about a lack of COVID-19 precautions at the Rosslyn Retirement Residence in the weeks before an outbreak was declared. Now his mother Joan Wallace is in hospital and has tested positive for the virus. (Supplied by Brian Melnike)

Melnike believes the home will be "under a microscope" from public health, given what's happened.

He also he's been told the Rosslyn has hired two nurses, one of whom he spoke to by phone and said "sounded incredibly sincere about the health and safety of the patients when they come back."

Still, Melnike said hasn't heard from the home's owners in weeks, a fact that's making the uncertainty around the situation even more difficult for families.

"Every one of us is sitting here completely blind."