Ottawa

'My mom's in there': Relatives wait, worry outside stricken Almonte care home

Outside the Almonte Country Haven long-term care home, all the worried sons and daughters of the people inside can do is wave, and wait.

COVID-19 has so far claimed 18 lives at Almonte Country Haven

Cora Marchand stands outside Almonte Country Haven, where her 88-year-old mother is in isolation. Eighteen people have so far died from COVID-19 at the long-term care home in Mississippi Mills, Ont. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Outside the Almonte Country Haven long-term care home, all the worried sons and daughters of the people inside can do is wave, and wait.

"It's the roughest thing I've gone through. Can't talk to her, can't hug her, can't give her any comfort," said Doris Parks, whose 99-year-old mother, Bessie Parks, has lived at the home for five years.

"I can't focus, I walk the floors, I can't eat," Doris Parks said. "I can't have a normal life. I'm worried, worried, very, very worried. My mom's 99. I'd rather her go with natural causes, not a virus."

On Tuesday, OMNI Health Care, the company that runs Almonte Country Haven, announced another two residents had succumbed to COVID-19, bringing the death toll at the 82-bed facility to 18.

Now there are serious concerns for the residents who remain in isolation there.

'It's tragic'

Parks said it's been more than a month since she's seen her mother, apart from a brief wave through the window. She said so far, her mother has shown no symptoms of the respiratory illness.

"She's in a private room. That's what's keeping her alive, I think, and all the nurses and the [personal support workers] that are working and keeping her well," Parks said through tears. "It's tragic. It's really tragic."

'I'm upset and I'm hurting. My mom's in there. She's 99.' Doris Parks said she plans to embark on a letter-writing campaign to shine more light on the grave situation facing residents and staff at long-term care homes like Almonte Country Haven. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Cora Marchand has been paying daily visits to Country Haven to wave through the window at her 88-year-old mother, who's in a semi-private room at the home.

"I'm not 100 per cent sure she knows what's going on. She just told me today her roommate is not in her bed anymore," Marchand said. She said her mother had a fever and upset stomach last week, but those symptoms seem to have cleared up.

Desperate for updates

Marchand, one of two siblings who live in the Almonte area, said what's going on is especially upsetting for her three siblings who don't live nearby.

"They're struggling, they find it very difficult. They want more updates. They just want more," she said. "When you hear about the Quebec situation [where 31 residents of a privately operated seniors' home in Dorval died of COVID-19], you hear stories like that, and your mind in these times just goes to a place that's not pleasant."

Marchand said the deaths at Country Haven have affected the entire community.

"You have neighbours and they're losing their parents," she said. "People in our community are dying."

Staff doing their best

Both Marchand and Parks applaud the staff at the centre, but said they need more support. On Tuesday, CBC saw a man drop off a donation of badly needed masks for the workers at the home.

"They need help, they need respect, they need recognition, they need equipment, they need masks. Like, this stuff should have been stockpiled," said Parks, who plans to embark on a letter-writing campaign to help raise awareness of the shortages.

Marchand said if it wasn't for her daughter, who has a compromised immune system and is now back home after being laid off from her job in Ottawa, she would volunteer to help out at Country Haven.

"If I was single and had nobody at home I would be volunteering, but I can't risk my daughter's health to come in," she said. "I can't even fathom how [staff are] feeling right now."

Staff meet a Lanark County paramedic outside the Almonte Country Haven long-term care home on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

'People are dying'

Marchand, too, believes the government has been dragging its feet to slow the deadly pace of the outbreaks at long-term care facilities and retirement homes across Canada, where some residents still share rooms and ordinary precautions don't seem to be helping.

"I do think people are looking for solutions, and I just don't think the government is offering the homes any solutions," she said. "Social distancing isn't working. People are dying. It's not working in these rooms."

One solution, Marchand believes, is to move the sick residents to hospital, where they can receive more appropriate care and lessen the risk of spreading the illness.

"I just don't think anybody can react, or we're not able to react fast enough, because people are dying daily," she said.

Doris Parks says her mother, who is nearly 99 years old, lives in Almonte Country Haven, where 18 people have died due to complications of COVID-19. 1:05

Parks believes swifter testing of residents would help, and should be made a priority. Her own mother was tested Sunday and is still awaiting results.

"Why do we have to sit in anguish and wait and wait and wait for these tests?" she asked.

Parks believes it's the least we can do for people like her mother, who farmed until she was 92 and raised a family that now numbers in the dozens.

"They're the backbone of this Canada. They are. They've settled this country, they've worked hard," she said. "They need respect. They need help, they definitely need help."

With files from Sandra Abma

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