'They did not die alone': How Ontario long-term care homes comfort residents dying of COVID-19

Ontario long-term care homes have been tasked with trying to contain the spread of COVID-19, while also ensuring residents dying of the virus are comforted in their final moments.

There have been at least 36 outbreaks in nursing homes in the province, with 55 deaths

St. Clair O'Connor Community is one of 36 Ontario long-term care homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Mary Hoare says the residents of Toronto's St. Clair O'Connor retirement home are like her "family" — and now the ​spread of COVID-19 has forced her to say goodbye to several of them. 

"It's a terrible time for everyone," said Hoare, CEO of the retirement home. 

She's now tasked with ensuring residents are comforted in their final moments, while also scrambling to contain the virus, which has spread throughout the long-term care section of the home. 

"They did not die alone," Hoare said. "Staff were around them and they were able to connect with their loved ones." 

In total, four residents in their 80s or 90s died at St. Clair O'Connor, according to numbers provided to CBC Toronto on Saturday. 

"When you lose a resident like that, it's like you've lost a part of your own family," Hoare said. 

Mary Hoare said knowing their loved ones are being cared for by people they trust 'made all the difference in the world' to family members of COVID-19 patients at St. Clair O'Connor. (Submitted by Mary Hoare)

Another 14 residents are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and awaiting tests results, leaving only seven of 25 residents living in long-term care at the retirement home without symptoms. 

Seven staff members have also tested positive for the virus. 

36 outbreaks in Ontario long-term care homes 

St. Clair O'Connor is just one of at least 36 long-term care homes in Ontario dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Those outbreaks have contributed to at least 55 of Ontario's 146 deaths related to the virus

The tally is based on information gathered by CBC News directly from Ontario's 34 local public health units. 

Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon reported another death on Sunday, bringing their total to 23. 

"Our residents are why [staff] are there, we want them to be happy, we want them to live the best lives they can," Mary Carr, the administrator for Pinecrest, said in a video statement on Saturday. 

Watch Carr's full statement below: 

Statement from Pinecrest Nursing Home on April 4

2 years ago
Pinecrest Nursing Home administrator Mary Carr says it's been an exceedingly large challenge to keep residents healthy and happy. 1:22

The Bobcaygeon retirement home has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, with one third of its residents now dead from the virus. 

"At this time, that has been an exceedingly large challenge," Carr said.  

Family members forced to say virtual goodbyes 

For Hoare and her staff at St. Clair O'Connor, the outbreak has left them feeling helpless against a virus with no available treatment or vaccine. 

The patients who died at the home displayed mild symptoms, she added, and all deteriorated within two weeks. Meanwhile, healthy residents are being tested daily for COVID-19. 

But Hoare said it's been especially hard on family members who haven't been able to say goodbye to their loved ones in person. 

"They're crushed, they're grieving, they're guilty because they can't come in because they have families of their own that they don't want to put in jeopardy," she said. 

In place of face-to-face connection, Hoare said staff have set up ways for sick residents to connect virtually with family members. 

Seniors need more government support, advocate says

But these outbreaks are made worse by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), seniors' advocate Laura Tamblyn Watts told CBC Toronto on Saturday. 

"The government needs to make sure that long-term care, and really seniors care, gets the same PPE and testing that hospitals have," she said. 

Because the risk of infection is high for seniors and resources are dwindling, Tamblyn Watts said a perfect storm has been created in these homes.

"Long-term care was already under stressed before COVID-19," she added. 

Advocate for older Canadians Laura Tamblyn Watts calls the attack a 'failure of the entire system.' She believes more resources are needed so that vulnerable people are not seated beside someone who could be dangerous. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Tamblyn Watts said the lack of equipment has now sparked a difficult question: should families remove their loved ones from long-term care homes? 

"It's really a challenge for people to figure out whether or not they are actually capable of taking care of their loved one at home," she said. 

Tamblyn Watts said a number of factors need to be considered before making the decision to bring a family member home, including whether or not your house will be a safe place for a senior in need of care.

"It's not an easy decision," she said.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp


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