Ottawa

What a year of no hugs or visits was like for nursing home residents

Over the past year COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 3,700 long-term care residents in Ontario. For residents at Ottawa's Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Centre, it’s been a year without hugs, visits, outside excursions and daily activities.

Perley and Rideau residents desperate for interaction but staying optimistic

Pierette Leblanc, a resident at the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre in Ottawa, is one of many residents who went without hugs, visits and daily activities for a year. (CBC)

Over the past year, COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 3,700 long-term care residents in Ontario. 

For residents at one of the province's biggest care homes, the Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre in Ottawa, it's been a year without hugs, visits, outside excursions and daily activities.

Residents there are desperate for interaction, sad about what's been lost, yet surprisingly optimistic that the COVID-19 vaccine will soon deliver their modest hopes. 

CBC reporter Julie Ireton got special permission to go into the care facility after a negative COVID-19 test, wearing a mask and goggles to speak with these seniors about the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

Ireton spoke to former nurse Pierette Leblanc, nursing home volunteer Réjeanne Fairhead, World War II veteran Jack Commerford, veteran Mike Courteau and former nurse and veteran Ida Crocker.

With her documentary There'll be Bluebirds, the CBC's Julie Ireton takes us inside a long-term care home, where she found residents desperate for interaction, sad about what's been lost — and yet optimistic.

Pierette Leblanc, 90

"We seem to be still just treading water. We're not near the shore yet. We see it and then we lose it, because the waves go up and down and that's what's happening. And we must do our best to convince people of the necessity of the confinement, the necessity of vaccination, of all those conditions that are imposed on us ... Being in a long-term disability home you lose your freedom. Well, this time I feel we've lost it twice, in a more cruel way, because it's frightening. But we mustn't give up. We've got to think ahead. Better days are coming." 

Réjeanne Fairhead, 94

"The first few weeks were very, very difficult because you didn't know the future. You didn't know what was going to happen. You only have the four walls to look at, nobody to talk to. You use the phone a lot, but it's not the same. You miss the contact with people, so you finally get used to it. You make up your mind because you realize, the people in nursing homes are so much worse. So you stop crying. So you get used to it." 

Jack Commerford, 96

"I was confined to here ... It was very limiting in my view, but I appreciated the precautions they were taking to prevent me from getting sick. My wife is here. It's good to have her here. She can't do things for herself, but I'm able to help her with her eating. She can't use her hands or her body. She's got Alzheimer's ... We have five children ... If my wife Marion is awake and alert, they sing to her." 

Mike Courteau, 77

"I had to stay two weeks in isolation and that wasn't fun, in one room, never being able to go out and your meals were carried into your room ... I'd like them to get back to normal. They have activities every day, bands coming in and all kinds of things every day, but because of the ban on people they couldn't do it, so that was cancelled ... I finally found a guy that plays cribbage, and I've been asking everybody that I meet: 'you play cribbage?'" 

Ida Crocker, 100

"I had my 100th birthday at the end at the end of June, and no one could come to it. One daughter is in B.C. and the other daughter is in northern Ontario, Kenora, and so I was alone more or less. [When it comes to the vaccine] I hesitated to take it because I thought the children in school should have it. The teachers should have it. The bus drivers should have it. But my daughters persuaded me to take it and I took it. I don't feel any different. I guess I'm glad I took it ... Of course I wasn't afraid of going to war either when I went overseas in 1943 during World War II." 

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