Families plead for help as coronavirus outbreaks worsen at Toronto long-term care homes

Family members of residents in Toronto’s long-term care homes are pleading for more government support as deadly outbreaks continue to surge amid the second wave of COVID-19.

Ontario to open emergency facility for residents in need of temporary relocation

Dennis Chu, left, and his grandmother Wai Lo Lin, who died on Dec. 19 at Tendercare Living Centre after testing positive for COVID-19. (Dennis Chu/Submitted)

Family members of residents in Toronto's long-term care homes are pleading for more government support as deadly outbreaks continue to surge amid the second wave of COVID-19.

There are active outbreaks in 162 LTC homes according to the province's latest count, which represents just over a quarter of all facilities in Ontario.

Active cases have now reached 1,075 among residents and 967 among LTC staff.

Those figures have been on a steep and steady climb since late August, when there was briefly only a single LTC resident in all of Ontario with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Premier Doug Ford has pledged throughout the pandemic to build an "iron ring" around long-term care homes. 

People with elderly loved ones in the homes say the Ford government has not delivered on that promise.

"We want to urge our government, our premier and everyone else to take action," said Dennis Chu, whose 98-year-old grandmother died on Dec. 19 at the Tendercare Living Centre in Scarborough.

"It's already too late for some of us, but there's still a chance for everybody in there still."

The Tendercare Living Centre is in the grips of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the province. There are 107 active COVID-19 cases among residents and there have been 43 deaths at the 254-bed facility. Another 43 staff members have active cases.

"We would like to see the military go in because they can't get enough personal support workers to care for the residents," said Steve Eng, whose 84-year-old mother-in-law recently tested positive for the virus at Tendercare Living Centre.

Additional nurses have been called in to conduct COVID-19 testing at the Tendercare Living Centre, which is in the midst of a deadly outbreak. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

North York General Hospital, which has taken over infection prevention and control efforts at the home temporarily, said on Monday that progress is being made to stabilize the situation at the facility, though it warned that staffing levels remain a problem.

"There is still a significant need for more nurses ... and [an] all-out effort is being made to recruit additional nurses," said the hospital in a statement.

Similar concerns over staffing shortages are being raised by families connected to other homes across Toronto.

"They're caring quite well," Kanji said of the workers at Fountain View Care Community, where his 95-year-old father lives. "They just don't have enough staff in terms of nurses."

The facility has 19 active resident cases, two staff cases and one death.

Province to open emergency facility for LTC residents

The provincial government on Monday announced the creation of a temporary emergency facility in the Greater Toronto Area to house LTC residents displaced due to the "challenging situation" at their home facility.

In a news release, the province says those challenges could include: "crowding, shortage of staff, lack of supplies, or other outbreaks in the long-term care home, such as influenza."

The new Specialized Care Centre will be able to accommodate up to 90 residents when complete, though an opening date has not yet been announced.

"Today's announcement will support further prevention and containment efforts to protect our most vulnerable," said Minister of Health Christine Elliott in the release.

The province has not said if residents at any specific home, including Tendercare Living Centre, will be transferred to the new facility. A spokesperson told CBC Toronto that homes can refer residents to the facility, though it is not clear how the spaces will be prioritized.