Ottawa

Families having second thoughts as nursing home beds become vacant

As COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the province are declared over and new admissions are allowed, those with loved ones at the top of the long-term care waiting list are reconsidering the move.

COVID-19 outbreaks easing pressure on Ontario's long-term care waiting list

Patricia Pryor, right, has been on a waiting list for a long-term care bed for more than a year. One has finally become vacant, but her daughter, Jill Vickers, left, is concerned about putting her mother in a nursing home during the pandemic. (Submitted by Jill VIckers)

As COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the province are declared over and new admissions are allowed, those with loved ones at the top of the long-term care waiting list are reconsidering the move.

In Ontario, 64 per cent of all deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in long-term care homes, according to provincial data. In eastern Ontario alone, 269 nursing home patients have died of the virus. 

Concerns remain about the safety of Ontario's care homes, with the potential for a second wave of the coronavirus on the horizon. 

Jill Vickers's mother, Patricia Pryor, has been waiting for more than a year for a bed to become vacant in an Ottawa long-term care facility.

Pryor is 95 with advanced Parkinson's and some signs of dementia, so moving her from her private retirement residence into a provincially subsidized facility with 24-hour nursing care has become increasingly urgent.

With the help of a staff member at her Ottawa retirement home, Patricia Pryor visits with her family through a window during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Jill Vickers)

Vickers recently learned a bed had become available at one such facility, but given the pandemic's deadly effect on the long-term care sector, she's having second thoughts.

"They give you two days notice, so you have to accept it within 48 hours," said Vickers, a retired political science professor at Carleton University.  "I think people are going to find it difficult to make the judgment calls that have to be made." 

WATCH: What's on Jill Vickers' mind

Jill Vickers says she’s having second thoughts about moving her 95-year-old mother into a long-term care home because of safety concerns exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:06

'A death sentence'

While many nursing homes have managed to remain COVID-19-free throughout the course of the pandemic, five homes in this region lost between 20 and 35 per cent of their residents to the respiratory illness. Because of the pandemic, several facilities now have vacancies. 

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP), an advocacy group for seniors, has been hearing concerns from people in the same position as Vickers.

"We've heard from members of CARP who've said, 'A bed became available for my mother, but I don't want to send her there.' Because it would be a death sentence, potentially, as we head into what many are saying will be a second wave," said Marissa Lennox, CARP's chief policy officer.

Marissa Lennox, chief policy officer with the Canadian Association for Retired Persons, says the advocacy group has been hearing from concerned families. (Laura MacNaughton/CBC)

As of last fall, 37,000 people were waiting for a long-term care bed in Ontario, according to the ministry in charge.

Despite multiple requests made over several weeks, Ontario's minister of long term care, Merrilee Fullerton, has not been available for an interview with CBC on this subject.

There was also no one available for an interview at the Champlain Local Integrated Health Network (LHIN), which is responsible for placing residents in nursing homes. 

The ministry did share the current directives for new admissions:

  • The receiving home must not be in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, except under exceptional circumstances and only with the approval of the local public health unit.
  • The incoming resident must be tested for COVID-19, and must be transferred within 24 hours of receiving a negative result.
  • The receiving home must have a plan and sufficient staffing in place to isolate the incoming resident for 14 days in a room with no more than one other resident.

$5K difference

For Vickers, the current cost of her mother's care in a private retirement residence may well be the deciding factor.

"The trouble is that in a private [retirement] home it's à la carte, so when she needs something more it adds up," said Vickers, whose family is currently paying about $8,000 a month for her mother's retirement residence.

Jill Vickers is worried that if the family turns down the bed, her mother will go back to the bottom of the waiting list. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Pryor was a banking executive in New York City who saved her money, but Vickers said it will eventually run out. 

Her mother is next on the list to go into Royal Ottawa Place, a nursing home run by the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. There, like at all long-term care facilities in Ontario, basic costs are set by the province and a private room will cost the family less than $3,000 a month.

The $5,000 monthly savings will allow the family to hire outside help such as physiotherapy if they choose. Still, Vickers believes the entire system needs a major overhaul.

"Think of it: We've got this grey tsunami coming. I'm almost 80. There's a whole lot of us coming.... I don't know what people think they're going to do unless they totally revamp the whole system."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story contained suggestions that anyone who turns down an offer of a long-term care bed will go back to the bottom of the wait-list. In fact, the province amended the Long-Term Care Homes Act in March to prevent that from happening in the event of a pandemic.
    Jun 23, 2020 10:37 AM ET

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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