Loosening of rules at nursing homes too late, say families

Long-term care homes are allowing residents to do some things they haven't been able to for over a year, but some say the lifting of heavy restrictions comes too late.

Indoor social events, communal dining and hugs resume after a year

Betty Yakimenko, left, poses with her mother, Elsie Stadler, who lives at Madonna Care Community in Ottawa. Yakimenko says her mom's memory is completely gone after staying in isolation for the last year. (Submitted by Betty Yakimenko)

Long-term care homes are allowing residents to do some things they haven't been able to for over a year, but some say the lifting of heavy restrictions comes too late.

"Honestly, there are a lot of residents in there that probably would have benefited from dying of COVID-19 than going through the hell of isolation and neglect," said Lisa Nye, a partner-in-care for her 74-year-old father.

The new directive — announced by the Ontario government Tuesday — means homes can resume communal dining, indoor social events and gatherings. It also allows residents and caregivers who are fully immunized to have physical contact, such as hugging or holding hands.

But Nye has watched in agony as her father's long-term care home, Extendicare Medex in Ottawa, experienced outbreak after outbreak. Residents isolated in their rooms for months at a time, even after being fully vaccinated.

She said he's spent less than a week outside of his room since January. 

"[Residents are] confined to their rooms, [a] three by three space for weeks, if not ... months at a time, meals on their laps, no access to the outdoors, no access to fresh air," she said.

To even be able to see her father as a partner-in-care once a week, Nye needs to be tested for COVID-19 every four days. She now hopes to be able to move her father out of the care home, which is currently experiencing another outbreak.

Bob Nye eating his dinner in his room at an Extendicare Medex home in Ottawa. Nye's daughter Lisa says her father, and the other residents of the home, have had to isolate in their rooms for months as the home continues to experience outbreaks. (Submitted by Lisa Nye)

'We've lost that time,' says daughter

For Betty Yakimenko and her family, the experience is hauntingly similar.

"It's been horrendous," said Yakimenko, whose mother with dementia lives at the Madonna Care Community in Orléans. "She's been in her room. There's been a few times where they've opened up but for the most time, they just go from one outbreak to another."

Yakimenko blames the restrictions for erasing what was left of her mother's memory.

"It's worrisome because we've lost that time. We've lost that little bit of time with her where she now doesn't know who we are at all," Yakimenko said, adding that family members weren't able to see her mother for much of the pandemic.

"Before [the] pandemic, she knew my dad's voice. She knew he was important to her .... now she doesn't really know him at all, which is upsetting to him. They've been married for 62 years."

More changes promised

In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Long-Term Care later clarified that if outbreaks are isolated to a particular area of a home, then "indoor group activities can continue in non-affected areas."

"In the case of a confirmed outbreak that has been declared for the whole facility, all non-essential indoor group activities must be suspended throughout the home until the local public health unit directs otherwise."

The provincial government has promised even more changes once the current stay-at-home order lifts, though it has not yet specified what those changes will be.

Yakimenko said "it's about time" residents are given more freedoms, but those changes came too late for her mother.

She's hopeful residents will be allowed more visitors beyond partners-in-care once the stay-at-home order lifts.

Nye remains sceptical of the announcement, since it follows a scathing report from the province's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.

"I feel it's an exercise in smoke and mirrors," said Nye.


Nicole Williams is a journalist for CBC News based in Ottawa. She has also worked in P.E.I. and Toronto. She is part of the team that won a 2021 Canadian Association of Journalists national award for investigative journalism. Write in confidence to

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