As It Happens

'They need help,' pleads son of resident in Ontario nursing home where 12 died of COVID-19

The Ontario town of Bobcaygeon is devastated following the deaths of at least 12 people from COVID-19 at a local nursing home. 

‘I look in his eyes and they're extremely lonely,’ Ian Handscomb says of his father Bill

Bill Handscomb, centre, is a resident at Pinecrest Nursing Home, where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19. He is pictured here before the facility went into lockdown with his wife Carol, left, and son Ian, right. (Submitted by Ian Handscomb )


The Ontario town of Bobcaygeon is devastated following the deaths of at least 12 people from COVID-19 at a local nursing home.

Pinecrest Nursing Home, a tight-knit, one-storey facility with 65 beds, alerted families that three residents had tested positive for the novel coronavirus a couple weeks ago. 

As of last week, at least 34 of the facility's 66 staff members were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Twelve residents and one volunteer have died

Ian Handscomb, whose father Bill Handscomb is a resident at the care home, told As It Happens host Carol Off that finding out about the deaths has been an emotional "roller coaster." Here is part of their conversation.

Have you had any contact with your dad, with Bill?  

We found out about the positive cases on the 13th of March. Since then, my mom and I have pretty well been in isolation in town. We live right down the street from Pinecrest. 

We're able to do what we're calling window visits. We go and we can see him through the window. Before they went into complete isolation, we were able to talk to him on the telephone. 

[But] he's in the fourth stages of Parkinson's and really can't manage a phone well on his own. What we do is sit outside his window and [talk] through writing on signs. We're able to kind of keep in contact through that way. 

How do you think he's doing?

Physically, he is not exhibiting any symptoms. His roommate is not exhibiting symptoms [either]. 

Emotionally, I look in his eyes and they're extremely lonely. The only contact they're having with people is with the lovely nurses who are working their very hardest to manage their care. 

He has a television that he's able to watch, so he's getting some outside news through that. But it's very sad.

Right now, I'm considering ourselves very lucky that he is symptom-free. But what these other poor families are having to go through by not being able to have contact with their loved ones, it's very challenging.

Seven residents of the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., have died from COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

What effect is all this having on your mom? 

My mom is one of the people that has been there every day. Pretty well from two in the afternoon until nine o'clock when he goes to bed, there every day. Many people there thought she worked there. 

Not being able to go in, to touch him or just stroke his head — they have been married 53 years — has been very hard for her. 

As the staff exhaust themselves, both physically and mentally, it's not just going to be the virus that shuts them out.- Ian Handscomb, son of Pinecrest resident

How would you describe the way Pinecrest is handling the crisis?

They're in crisis mode. I think they're doing what they can.

I'm really pleading with whoever I can that they need help, they need manpower, they need to give these people a break because they're going to make themselves sick.

As the staff exhaust themselves, both physically and mentally, it's not just going to be the virus that shuts them out. They're going to be worked to the point where they're going to get the flu or other illnesses.  

[Then] they just won't be able to cope with what's going on in there. 

Ian Handscomb can only see his father Bill through a glass door. (Submitted by Ian Handscomb )

If you could get a message to Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, what would it be?

We're not asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. We're not asking for huge amounts of medicine. 

What we're asking for is people to help these poor personal support workers and nurses to care for these folks — whether it be those that are going to make it through the virus or those folks that these are their last days on this planet. 

They deserve the dignity of care that is expected for our seniors. 

I don't see where we're going to be in 20 or 30 years when our aging population is double what it is now. 

There's got to be a way that they can bring somebody in — from the military, nursing students or something — to give these poor people, who are going in day-in and day-out and working double or triple shifts, to manage these folks.

Written by Adam Jacobson with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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