Friends of senior who died allege her care home neglected her long before pandemic started
Antonietta Rezzadore died at 92 in hospital, outbreak still ongoing at her care home
While growing up in North York, Victoria Degan considered her neighbour Antonietta Rezzadore a family member.
Birthdays, slumber parties, her high school graduation — the 25-year-old shared so many moments with the older woman from across the street.
Rezzadore, who first met Victoria's mother Christina in 1984, hailed from Italy and had no family of her own left in Canada.
"She was basically an adoptive grandmother," Victoria Degan said.
That's why, as Rezzadore's independence faded and dementia set in, the Degan family helped care for her, first bringing in support staff to her home, then helping her with the transition to a long-term care facility three years ago once she needed around-the-clock care.
It's a setting where the family now says their beloved neighbour experienced neglect in her final days.
In April, Rezzadore died at the age of 92 in hospital amid a COVID-19 outbreak at her home, Weston Terrace Care Community. But the Degans say it's not clear what role the virus played in her death.
And they allege issues with her care at the home started long before the arrival of the pandemic.
'Her plates and glasses would be dry'
From cockroaches to rough treatment from staff, the home wasn't caring for residents properly, Christina Degan said.
After Rezzadore fell several times last year, the Degan family filed a complaint with the Ministry of Health.
Two provincial inspection reports dated Dec. 30, 2019 — provided to CBC Toronto by the Degans — outline various issues at Weston Terrace tied to non-compliance with requirements under the Long-Term Care Homes Act. Several notices were issued after staff were observed failing to use safe transferring techniques or follow care plans with some residents.
The reports also noted the home was lacking an interdisciplinary falls prevention and management program, and "failed to ensure that every resident has the right to be treated with courtesy and respect."
Prior to the pandemic, the Degans were so dissatisfied with Rezzadore's care they were paying for outside personal support workers for seven hours a day to ensure she was being properly fed and cared for.
But those services had to stop once the province went into lockdown.
The Degans believe she began quickly losing weight. At times, when the family would pop by to visit, Rezzadore would be sitting alone and not eating with other residents.
"We'd come during feeding times and her plates and glasses would be dry," Victoria recalled. "They'd say she'd already eaten, but there was evidence that wasn't the case."
Then on March 29, staff at Weston Terrace told Christina Degan that Rezzadore had developed a fever and cough, she recalled while speaking to CBC Toronto this week. By that point, she'd heard the home's physician was no longer seeing patients in-person.
"I insisted they do their job and have her sent to the hospital ASAP," she said.
Christina Degan said staff instead told her family that if Rezzadore was sent to a hospital, she could lose her private room at the home.
"I don't think they're truthful in how they're updating the families," Victoria Degan warned.
34 deaths at Weston Terrace
Rezzadore did wind up going to a local hospital, where she died on April 22 — potentially from COVID-19, though the Degan family doesn't know for sure.
According to the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 data, the 224-bed long-term care home has had 34 deaths so far, with some residents and staff still ill amid an ongoing outbreak.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living, the company which owns Weston Terrace, said it can't comment on "individual cases."
Natalie Gokchenian did say the sole focus for staff is the "safety and wellbeing" of residents, with infection control and outbreak management policies and protocols in place, plus ongoing re-testing of residents, transferring them to hospitals when needed, and ensuring their proper health and nutrition.
"How much residents eat is monitored at each meal and snack time," Gokchenian said in the statement.
The Degans don't believe that's the case.
Public input part of province's independent commission
Victoria Degan stressed not all long-term care homes have major issues; one of her biological grandmothers is in the long-term care system as well, and she says the experience is like night and day.
What the family wants now is to give a voice to their beloved neighbour to ensure other seniors are treated with dignity — whether it's a pandemic or not — by sharing concerns directly with the province.
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In July, Ontario's long-term care ministry is launching an independent commission to determine the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care homes. The Degans hope to be part of it.
"Through this process we will ensure public hearings, public deputations and public input, and we are committed to making a report from the commission public," said spokesperson Gillian Sloggett in an emailed statement.
Dozens of long-term care homes across the province are still experiencing outbreaks, with 247 already resolved — and so far, more than 1,800 residents have died.