Manitobans invited to share pandemic experience in residential care as part of exhibit visiting Winnipeg
COVID in the House of Old is at the Millennium Library until May 13
Stories illustrating the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in residential care facilities in Canada are being shared through a travelling exhibit now in Winnipeg.
COVID in the House of Old, which runs through May 13 at the Millennium Library, is curated by York University health historian Megan Davies.
The project, in part, gives the public the opportunity to understand the toll the virus took inside residential care homes, said Davies.
"Not just the terribly high death rates," she said. "But also the long isolation and the trauma that many workers and residents and family suffered during the pandemic."
Each stop along the tour also provides the opportunity for care home workers, residents and their families to have their experiences from the pandemic collected and archived as part of the storytelling project.
"If we don't gather these stories now they will vanish to history and we will never have those insights … into what made things better in those facilities during COVID and what stopped justice, kindness and equity from taking place," said Davies.
The exhibit includes seven chairs, which each tell a different story.
Six of the chairs represent an individual, explained Davies. Wikwemikong Nursing Home located on Manitoulin Island holds the seventh chair.
Gertie Lipson, 89, has been living at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre, a 200-bed personal care home located in south Winnipeg, for three years.
Lipson is one of at least 18 people connected to the personal care home who shared their pandemic experience with Davies earlier this week.
WATCH | Winnipeg personal care home resident shares her pandemic experience:
Lipson told CBC when COVID-19 hit Manitoba, it felt like she was cut off from the world.
Public health measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, meant there were stretches of time where restrictions limited visitors in care homes.
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"It was very sad and very lonely," said Lipson.
"It was very, very depressing. I felt very isolated. We all did … Where were our relatives? Where were our friends?"
She still hasn't forgotten the moments she spent holding the hand of a fellow resident before he died. They both had COVID-19, she explained.
"The staff was very caring and they had to take turns holding his hand and sort of talking to him and they asked me if I'd like to do that," she said.
"I was so glad I was able to do that little bit for him … He felt like somebody's out there who cares about me."
Lipson said his wife would come to the window to see him and would thank her through the glass for helping to comfort him.
Lipson thinks it's important to capture this point in history through the experiences of care home residents.
"We all went through [a] very bad time and it was something that was unusual," she said. "We didn't know how to handle this. I don't think the doctors knew how to handle this."
Davies said each participant has the choice to share their story either in an audio recording, though art, by creating a valentine for someone or typing it on a vintage typewriter.
Davies hopes people learn from the stories and start to envision a different future for elder care.
Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti invited Davies to the home so staff and residents could be part of the project.
"I want people to be able to tell their story — both the good things and horrible things," she said.
"It's important that everyone hears these stories and that these stories are remembered for years to come."
Cerqueti said roughly 20 residents at the personal care home died from or with COVID-19.
These days both vaccines and the knowledge on how to respond to COVID-19 have made outbreaks at the facility less severe.
She said long-term care has been underfunded by government for years and she hopes that will change.
"Not just funding for nurses and health-care aids, but also our buildings and being able to maintain them," said Cerqueti.
Lipson said the staff at Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre have been caring and understanding.
"If you have a heart and you care for people, genuinely care for people, that's the most important thing," she said.