London

Family alleges elderly parent with dementia not given basic care as COVID ravaged nursing home

A Komoka, Ont., nursing home is so overwhelmed by an outbreak that some residents who aren't sick aren't being given basic care, the family of an 82-year-old resident alleges.

Myrna Foat, 82, wore dirty clothes, a diaper and went without compression socks for days

Myrna Foat, 82, pictured here in her room at Country Terrace during a window visit with her son Kirk and daughter-in-law Anna. (Anna Foat/Twitter)

The family of an 82-year-old nursing home resident with dementia says staff at a Komoka, Ont., long-term care home are so overwhelmed by dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that their beloved parent was not given basic care for days. 

It meant Myrna Foat, who requires 24/7 care, didn't bathe, wore no pants, a dirty top and went without her prescribed compression stockings for three days, according to her family, as they desperately tried to get a hold of staff inside Country Terrace long-term care home, who wouldn't answer the phone. 

According to the Ministry of Long-term care, Country Terrace in Komoka has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak inside its facility since December 10th. 

As of Wednesday, the 120-bed facility had 23 confirmed cases of the virus among its residents, 11 resident deaths and 14 cases among its staff. 

Myrna Foat has been living at the facility since October, according to her daughter-in-law Anna Foat, who, along with her husband Kirk, made the difficult decision after they could no longer care for his 82-year-old mother while maintaining full-time jobs, their home and looking after two young children. 

At first the care was good, then came the second wave

Country Terrace long-term care home in Komoka, Ont., has been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak since Dec. 10 in which 10 residents have died. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

At first, Anna Foat said, the care was good. Then, when the second wave of infections hit the nursing home this winter, she started noticing strange things. 

"I got three or four calls that she had run out of underwear, which was weird."

"We came to visit her and her outfits became bizarre; sweaters under nighties. She wasn't wearing shoes."

It was at that point that Anna Foat and her husband Kirk became suspicious that his mother may not be getting the care they expected. So they decided to visit her at the window of her nursing home suite more regularly. 

'She looked really unkempt'

"We started going every day. The one day we noticed that she really looked unkempt."

"Her hair is always brushed or French-braided and it was all matted. She was in, really, what looked like a dirty outfit and we went back the next day and she was really in the same outfit, with no pants and a depend and no compression stockings and no shoes."

The couple couldn't deny what they saw with their own eyes. They even took photographs and aired their frustration on social media because they had tried and failed to reach someone inside the home for a number of days. 

"My only access is through a window to talk to someone who is not lucid," Anna Foat said. "It was very hard to get any information from the home around what the heck was going on. So that's when we started to become concerned."

The problem was, over the winter holidays, there seemed to be no one available to whom they could express those concerns. Foat said it appeared staff were too preoccupied to deal with their concerns. 

"It seemed to me, that the staff that they had were dealing with the other folks in the other ward who were COVID-positive."

"There didn't seem to be enough staff to meet the minimum care," she said, noting she still doesn't know how many employees were on duty during the break. 

"No one will tell us what the staffing is. They just say the staffing is 'stable.'"

Nursing home says staffing levels 'stable'

The family of a Country Terrace resident alleges staff are so overwhelmed with a COVID-19 outbreak during the winter holidays they couldn't even tend to their beloved parent's basic needs for days. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

After three days of attempts, they finally got through, but it was only after Anna and Kirk had emailed Patrick McCarthy, the CEO of Omnicare, the company that owns Country Terrace.

McCarthy declined an interview with CBC News when contacted on Wednesday. In an email, he wrote that the company is "not currently accepting media requests." 

"Despite the incidence of COVID-19 amongst staff and the related isolation time required, our staffing levels have remained stable throughout the outbreak, with sufficient staff on duty to maintain care requirements of all residents in each of the home's wings." 

Despite assurances from long-term care homes like Country Terrace, the virus continues to ravage the sector, with COVID-19 cases climbing rapidly. As of Wednesday, there have been 121 new cases of the virus involving residents and staff since Dec. 31, with 82 residents infected and 39 staff. Two residents have died. 

Expert says 'stable' claims are misleading

Vivian Stamatopoulos (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Professor Vivian Stamatopoulos, an Oshawa-based researcher at Ontario Tech University who studies long-term care in Ontario, said Myrna Foat's story is, sadly, all too common. 

"I hear this all the time because unfortunately the discourse that's being constructed by the Minister of Long-term care, that everything is 'stable' is actually not the case."

"We are at the crisis point right now. I am hearing story after story of homes that are struggling to provide basic care."

"We've seen at least 25-plus homes that have had exploding outbreaks where dozens of staff have to isolate and are off the job and then there's nobody in to replace those staff and unfortunately this was well-predicted to have occurred." 

She told CBC News in November the provincial government had "wasted the summer months" by not preparing for the second wave.

She called on the province to do something similar to Quebec, which launched a campaign to hire some 10,000 orderlies to care for seniors in the province's long-term care homes and has so far fared better in the second wave, according to reports.  

However, Stamatopoulos said it appears neither the nursing homes nor the provincial government, which has also been struggling to organize a vaccination campaign, seems to have learned from the first wave. 

"In fact it's actually worse now because unlike the first wave, where we could send the hospitals in to save the day, we don't have the hospital capacity right now because of off-the-charts community transmission that's not going down any time soon." 

Stamatopoulos said with legislation to mandate the standard of care, it would place the onus on the homes, many of which are operated by for-profit corporations, to raise their staffing levels to provide an extra 51 per cent increase in care hours, which many experts have called for, or risk government enforcement action.

"The homes and the province have both dropped the ball here." 

Province started hiring extra staff this month

Paramedics transport an elderly patient from a Toronto nursing home. Given the concentration of frail, elderly residents, long-term care has been hard hit in both the first and second wave of the virus. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Krystle Caputo, the press secretary for Long-term care Minister Murrilee Fullarton, wrote in an email to CBC News Wednesday that it will pay out more than $400 million to temporarily enhance the wages of personal support workers in the pandemic. 

"We recognize the long-standing and systemic challenges the sector is facing due to decades of neglect. That is why in December we announced our historic staffing plan to create more than 27,000 new positions for personal support workers, registered nurses and registered practical nurses in long-term care."

She said, to implement this plan, the government will make more investments totalling nearly $2 billion by 2024. 

"We remain committed to doing everything we can, along with our partners, to help stabilize the homes and have them return to normal operations."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

now