Vaccinated care home resident, husband await 'light at the end of the tunnel'

Mel Creighton was expecting more freedom for his wife, Carmen Amelung-Creighton, once they were both vaccinated. But he says there's been little to no change, yet another example that underlines the uncertainty facing immunized residents of long-term care homes.

Mel Creighton says little has changed since he and his wife were immunized

Ottawa man frustrated by long-term care home restrictions even after vaccination

2 years ago
Duration 0:33
Mel Creighton, whose wife Carmen lives at the Extendicare Starwood long-term care home, says he’s still not allowed to take her on walks or even outside her room, leaving him frustrated by the lack of freedom even though they’re both fully vaccinated.

For Mel Creighton, his wife's daily life in one Ottawa long-term care home is "worse than being in jail."

Carmen Amelung-Creighton, 73, survived a positive COVID-19 diagnosis during an outbreak at the Extendicare Starwood in October.

She's since been fully vaccinated, as has Creighton, who is 83 and lives independently.

Creighton said the couple's visits have barely changed since they were immunized, however. That's partly because of an outbreak at the home for much of February, but Creighton says he was also admonished for trying to take her out of her room in early March — one day after the outbreak was declared over. 

It's another situation that underlines the uncertainty in long-term care homes about how much freedom can be granted to vaccinated residents, both when outbreaks are underway and when they're not.

"I was hoping once she had the shot, and I had the shot, she would be freer. That you could take her around and she could look out the window or something," he said.

"You thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel just keeps getting longer."

Carmen Amelung-Creighton, left, and Mel Creighton in a photo from before Carmen went to a long-term care home. Mel Creighton says his wife has been confined in the home for a year, and both her mental health and her mobility have faded. (Mel Creighton)

Creighton said he's frustrated by the year-long confinement Amelung-Creighton has had to endure inside the home and that her mental health and mobility have deteriorated.

"The damage has been done, and I don't know if it's beyond repair," he recently told CBC.

He said he's fine continuing to get tested every three days as part of infection control and prevention measures.

'A real balancing act'

CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, said it's time the Ontario government created a clear framework with timelines and vaccination levels that spells out which activities will be available to long-term care residents.

"Where we can loosen those requirements, let's make sure seniors can rejoin society and not be locked away from their loved ones," said Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge.

Drives have been allowed in Nova Scotia, she said, while outdoor walks and limited gatherings with proper distancing and masking are also possibilities.

"It is a real balancing act," she said. 

"We hear everyday at CanAge about residents who have lost mobility, lost continence, lost weight and really got disconnected from the rest of the world," she added. "In some cases, we're hearing people say that life is not worth living this isolated."

Mel Creighton says he hoped his wife would have more freedom in her long-term care home once both of them were fully vaccinated. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

When is a home 'post-vaccination'?

Ottawa Public Health said The Ottawa Hospital was put in charge of infection control measures at the Extendicare Starwood in October due to the complexity of the outbreaks, which continued into March.

In a statement, Extendicare said a care home is "not post-vaccination until the community surrounding it and the people entering it are vaccinated too."

Extendicare said they're following the lead of local public health and the Ministry of Long-Term Care on infection prevention and control measures. About two-thirds of their staff and more than 90 per cent of their residents have been vaccinated, they said, and their immunization program is continuing.

The Extendicare Starwood residence dealt with a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak in the fall of 2020, and Carmen Amelung-Creighton was among those who tested positive. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The Ministry of Long-Term Care didn't provide a timeline for when visitations and other restrictions on long-term care homes could be relaxed, but said completing vaccinations is the beginning of a slow return to normal.

"Until more people have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, we must continue to be vigilant in following public health guidance," the ministry's email said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at and on Twitter @matthewkupfer

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