Ottawa

Woman fears for brother's life as virus ravages Ottawa nursing home

The sister of a man living at Ottawa's Carlingview Manor says she's worried her brother won't survive the pandemic as the number of COVID-19 cases among staff and residents at the facility continues to rise.

36 residents dead, 137 test positive for COVID-19 at Carlingview Manor

Alison Guertin-Keary worries about her brother, James Guertin, who lives at Carlingview Manor in Ottawa. So far, 137 residents at the privately operated long-term care home have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 36 of whom have died. (Submitted)

The sister of a man living at Ottawa's Carlingview Manor says she's worried her brother won't survive the pandemic as the number of COVID-19 cases among staff and residents at the facility continues to rise.

Alison Guertin-Keary's brother, James Guertin, 61, lives at the 291-bed long-term care home, which currently has the most confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 of any facility in eastern Ontario.

As of Thursday, 137 residents at Carlingview have tested positive for the respiratory illness, 36 of whom have died. Seventy-three staff members at the home have also tested positive.

"It's absolutely terrifying, and I don't think that it's realistic to think that he's not going to get this virus. And in all honesty, I highly doubt he'll survive if he does get it," Guertin-Keary said.

Like all long-term care facilities in the province, Carlingview is currently off limits to visitors. Since her brother's room is on the fourth floor of the facility, there's no way for Guertin-Keary to see him. 

Carlingview is the largest for-profit, long-term care residence in eastern Ontario.

Swat team sent in

In an effort to bring the outbreak under control, and with a sizeable swath of the facility's staff in quarantine, a "swat team" of front-line health-care workers from the Queensway Carleton Hospital was recently brought in to look after residents at Carlingview.

"They're very graciously helping long-term care homes by deploying some of their staff to our homes where we may be short staffed, which is almost always," said Dr. Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer for Revera, which owns Carlingview.

The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. I can't see him. I can't hold his hand. I can't tell him I love him.- Alison Guertin-Keary

Besides the staff members who have tested positive, there are others who are "simply afraid to come to work," Collins said.

Revera also owns the Montfort Long Term Care Home on Montreal Road, where there are currently 68 COVID-19 cases, and where there have been 27 deaths among residents. 

Nurses and other caregivers, clinical advisers and infection control practitioners from the Montfort Hospital are also helping at the Montfort nursing home, according to Revera.

"At Revera we have right now about 100 recruiters trying to bring in all different disciplines: nursing staff, dietary staff, [personal support workers]," Collins said.

Dr. Rhonda Collins, the chief medical officer at Revera, says the company will do a deep data analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on its facilities to help prepare for future outbreaks. (Submitted/Revera)

Complaints, concerns predate COVID-19

James Guertin, who has multiple sclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, uses a wheelchair to get around Carlingview, where he's lived since June 2018. 

He also smokes and often leaves his room to have a cigarette in the fenced-in yard.

"I've tried to get him to stop for his quality of life," said Guertin-Keary. "I can't in good conscience take that away from him." 

She worries about her brother wheeling around the facility, touching the buttons on the elevator and potentially exposing himself to the virus. 

She said his room, which he shares with three other residents, is cramped, the beds separated only by curtains. 

"The conditions in this residence are horrible," she said. 

James Guertin, who has multiple sclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, has lived at Carlingview Manor since June 2018.  (Submitted)

Guertin-Keary and other family members told CBC their complaints about Carlingview began long before the coronavirus outbreak, and included concerns about the facility's cleanliness and a persistent infestation of cockroaches.

Provincial inspection reports filed as recently as February detail ongoing sanitary issues at Carlingview, including the discovery of dead cockroaches, likely stemming from documented infestations last fall and summer.  

Poor communication

Revera said all Carlingview residents were recently tested for COVID-19, and Guertin-Keary said the family was told James Guertin's test was negative. Guertin-Keary says she believes the testing was done on April 25 but when she spoke to James on April 28, he insisted that he was never tested.

Guertin's sister said after several attempts, neither she nor her niece have been able to reach staff at Carlingview to ask for the test report or clarify the discrepancy.

In fact, Guertin-Keary said communication with both her brother and Carlingview staff has been inconsistent throughout the pandemic. She said there's often no answer when family members call the home.

According to Revera, staff are frequently connecting with families through video conferencing apps, though that has not been the case for the Guertin family.

"The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. I can't see him. I can't hold his hand. I can't tell him I love him. He's all by himself, as are many of the residents in many homes. This has brought a spotlight, and the conditions were like this before," Guertin-Keary said.

Alison Guertin-Keary, whose brother is a resident of Carlingview Manor, says she worries for his safety as the number of COVID-19 cases among staff and residents continues to rise. 0:53

Revera planning analysis

Collins said Revera plans to do an analysis of the factors that led to the current outbreak.

"Things like the size of the building, or the layout, how many of them have four-bed wards ... so we can correct those and move forward, to try to prevent further spread," Collins said.

Collins said the company needs to be prepared in case there's another wave of COVID-19.

WATCH: The specific problems with COVID-19

Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer for Revera, which owns Carlingview Manor, says care homes are generally equipped to handle viral outbreaks, but there are some aspects of COVID-19 that staff weren’t prepared for. 1:49

For now, Carlingview Manor isolates residents who test positive, and where possible, management is assigning staff to focus on specific units to avoid spreading the virus.

But as she watches the death count rise at Carlingview, Alison Guertin-Keary said she has no confidence her brother is safe.

"I wish there was more I could do, but with the waiting lists elsewhere, and he's on disability, so I mean that we were able to get him in there, we felt fortunate. But given the circumstances now, it's really disheartening."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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