Families of Rosslyn residents feel 'disgusted' and 'helpless' after retirement home evacuation

A couple says they raised red flags about infection controls at the Rosslyn Retirement Residence long before it was evacuated. While one woman says she's "disgusted" by the lack of treatment at the home.

Brian Melnike painted an urn for his mother, but hopes he won't have to use it

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)

The painting shows Joan Wallace laughing and smiling, her eyes crinkled with joy behind a pair of big glasses.

Brian Melnike is the artist and love for his mother shows in every stroke, but he's hoping the urn he painted it on won't be used, at least not yet.

Wallace, 87, is one of 64 residents at the Rosslyn Retirement Residence who have COVID-19. She was transported, along with dozens of others, to hospital on May 15 when the home was emptied amid an outbreak that spread like wildfire, infecting 84, including 20 staff members. Four residents have died.

Families of those who lived at the home describe the situation there as "shameful," with Melnike and his wife saying they flagged concerns about infection prevention and control long before people started testing positive and the Rosslyn was emptied, sending nearly every residents to hospital.

Wallace is currently asymptomatic, but is on oxygen, according to her son. She also has dementia and needs someone to remind her to drink water, which led to problems after everyone at the Rosslyn was confined to their rooms after the outbreak began, said Melnike

"I believe that by the time she was finished there she was dehydrated," he explained. "When she went into the General [Hospital] she had kidney issues."

His mother ended up on a catheter at the hospital and also developed a urinary tract infection.

While he's trying to hold onto hope she can recover, he's afraid that won't happen.

That's where the urn comes in. The 55-year-old paints them for special people in his life.

Typically his creations only come to life after their subject has died.

"To be honest with you I really don't see my mother coming out of the hospital," said Melnike. "I really think that eventually these symptoms will show and they will rapidly take her down."

Brian Melnike painted this urn for his mother. He's hoping the family won't have to use it. (Supplied by Brian Melnike)

Kelly Wilson is in a similar situation. Her stepmother also lived at the Rosslyn, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is asymptomatic.

"Right now I've just got my fingers crossed as tight as I can keep 'em that she's going to get through this OK," she said.

Her stepmother moved into the home at the end of March, just as the pandemic was really starting to make its mark.

The 79-year-old is mostly independent, but needed a place to stay and someone to keep an eye on her after a fall in her apartment left her stuck between the couch and coffee table for several days until someone found her.

Wilson says her stepmother managed to share a room with her best friend and reported the home seemed to be handling the virus well. Then, suddenly on May 15, she got a call.

"There's an outbreak here and they're moving everybody out," Wilson says her stepmother told her. "They already moved my friend out and I've got nowhere to go."

A 'shameful' situation

Unfortunately, no family members had space and she didn't want to abandon her cat during a stay at hospital, so Wilson says her stepmother is one of two residents who have found accommodations elsewhere.

"She and her cat are off staying in a hotel now," the 51-year-old explained, adding her stepmother would have self-isolated in her room at the home, except that she had been forced out along with everyone else so she had nowhere else to go.

"I'm just disgusted with the lack of quality treatment considering the amount of money people pay to be in these places. It's just shameful the way they're not caring for them properly," said Wilson.

The Rosslyn Retirement Residence near Gage Park has 64 resident and 20 staff cases of COVID-19, according to public health. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The home was issued orders by both public health and the provincial retirement home regulator directing it to improve infection prevention and controls.

Representatives for the Rosslyn have not responded to multiple emails and calls asking for comment and raising questions about the situation there.

Wilson is still trying to process how the outbreak spread so quickly.

"I was just kind of whirling in my head going how do things go from 'Oh everything's terrific' … to 'Oh my god everybody in the home has got it,'" she said.

Couple raised red flags

For Melnike and his wife the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases at the home has been a frightening, frustrating experience.

On April 8 they launched a complaint against the home after his wife stopped by to drop off some supplies and noticed the door was unlocked and unattended so anyone could walk in. A PSW then came to the door, stood less than two meters from his wife and invited her in, said Melnike.

"We kept saying we're surprised at the Rosslyn right from the start that they didn't have it [because] residents were coming and going."

The couple responded by sending letters to local and provincial health officials as well as the premier and "anyone who would listen" saying proper protocols around the virus weren't being followed.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, previously said only essential visitors were supposed to be entering retirement homes, but it was unclear whether or not that had been happening at the Rosslyn. She urged anyone who had been at the home between April 26 and May 15 to self-isolate for 14 days and call public health.

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

Then, during a May 7 window wave visit ahead of Mother's Day, Melnike said he noticed no one working there seemed to be wearing personal protective equipment.

"There was no PPE at all and this was after public health had already issued the order," he said.

"I realize there's a pandemic, but this whole thing with the Rosslyn should never have happened. We saw it coming, we tried to raise the red flags and nothing happened. This is the result."

Left feeling 'helpless'

Melnike and his wife also have concerns about the transfer to hospital, saying they were initially told the move was taking place because of staffing concerns, not medical ones, even though his mother had tested positive.

The couple also never received a call saying which hospital she had been placed in, he said, adding they needed to call around to find her again.

"This whole thing, right from the start, has been handled incredibly wrong. Somebody has to be made accountable for this. It's got to change," said Melnike.

"We're basically helpless. That's 100 per cent the feeling right there in a nutshell, helpless."