By: James Burrows

On Mothers’ Day, Carolyn Goodwin drove from her home in Mississauga to Doug Ford’s home in Toronto to deliver a letter. She was deeply concerned about the unfolding crisis at River Glen Haven, a long-term care facility on High St. in Sutton.

“On behalf of my 104-year-old grandmother Glenna Goodwin, I would like you and your team to investigate River Glen Haven Nursing Home,” read the letter. “We the family are worried not only for her but the other residents and staff. The owners of that home are silent.”

Ms. Goodwin doesn’t know whether Ford ever read the letter but noticed soon after that the Ontario government began to make announcements about long-term care in Ontario and, on May 19, announced an independent commission into long-term care.

“My grandmother was very humble. She always downplayed everything. She grew up with hard times but made the most of her life and just loved every person she had ever met. Everyone that ever met her just felt so warm after having a conversation with her.”

Glenna Goodwin died May 18. One of 33 residents who have died due to COVID-19 at River Glen Haven since the first positive case was reported on April 27.

River Glen Haven is privately owned by ATK Care Inc. and has space for 119 residents, mostly in shared rooms. Staff shortages and access to PPE, have reportedly hampered the home throughout the outbreak.

On May 22, the Ministry of Long-Term Care issued a mandatory management order making Southlake Regional Health Centre the home’s new manager. The order cited a lack of “critical and administrative leadership” as well as an inability to “ensure minimal staff are present.”

Linda Boyce lost both her parents, William Maw and Lucille Lefrancois, from COVID-19 at River Glen Haven within a week of each other and was extremely alarmed by the short staffing and lack of communication provided to families.

“I just wasn’t satisfied with that home at all,” she said. “In the beginning, I had one PSW caring for my parents, but then I started to get different people giving me different answers.

“I was told they only had 50 per cent of their employees in there. I called regularly. I would call in the morning and tell me that she didn’t have a fever the night before. When I’d call later in the afternoon and talked to a different nurse, they said she did have a fever.”

In February, Ms. Boyce moved her parents to River Glen Haven to be closer to their granddaughter, Kim Fudge, who lives in Keswick. Her father struggled with Parkinson’s and dementia and to access a room they applied as a couple.

“They were happy, they were together, and they had their own room. I had my mother coming out. We were going to bingo; we were having fun.”

Ms. Boyce’s father tested positive on May 23 and died on May 24. Her mother tested positive on May 20 and, at first, appeared to be recovering.

“I was told she was going to come out of it because she didn’t have a fever, and she was looking good,” she said. “She was good on the phone. I went over there and looked at her through the window and talked to her on the phone. That was the last time I talked to her.”

On May 30, Ms. Boyce received a call telling her hospitalization was necessary. Ten minutes later, she was told her mother had died. “She died exactly six days after my father. It’s been a hell of a ride.”

Kim Fudge’s baby girl next to poster honouring Bill & Lucy at RGH vigil

Numerous reports of problems with long-term care in Ontario have been reported over the last several years, and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) alone has documented 35 reports over the previous 25 years, citing understaffing and underfunding in the system.

In a press release on June 5, the RNAO stated, “We implore the Ministry of Long-Term Care, the Ministry of Health and the Premier to act now. It is disheartening, exhausting, and expensive to study problems that are known and understood and where the missing factor is the political will to act decisively rather than, once again, kick the can down the road with more commissions and more reports.”

Ms. Goodwin believes the staff at River Glen are doing the best they can under the circumstances but wants to see meaningful, holistic changes in the system.

“As a family, we loved her so much,” she said. “What legacy could we leave Nana? Could we make change in long-term care homes? What can we do as a society to make sure that experience is appropriate for a grandmother or grandfather that has to end up being cared for by other people who are also dedicating their careers to old people.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Boyce wonders why conditions were allowed to get so bad in the home, before the province was forced to step in and take it over.

“If they had done what they were supposed to do and clean the place up and wear the PPE properly my mother would still be here today,” she said.

“They waited for all those people to die before they bring in help? There’s something wrong with that. I’m not letting this go because I don’t believe my mom should have had to go this way.”

Marie Morton is the outgoing Executive Director at Hospice Georgina and wants people to know that resources are available for those who need them.

“For people who’ve lost someone they love at River Glen under these circumstances, there’s a long road ahead,” she said.

“There’s going to be a lot of practical things they have to deal with. All of these emotions might come later. So, they have to give themselves time and grace to work through all that. Listening to themselves and their own bodies. What might help them cope today might be different tomorrow.”

For people looking for support, Hospice Georgina is still operating, and staff are working for home. Sharon Spencer is the grief and bereavement coordinator and can be reached at grief@hospicegeorgina.com. There are no fees for service.

When contacted for comment, MPP Caroline Mulroney’s office stated, “I am incredibly grateful to the staff at Southlake and River Glen Haven who are working tirelessly each day to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. I will continue to support the efforts of families, residents and frontline workers during this time. I would continue to encourage families affected by the situation at River Glen to reach out to RGH@southlake.com or contact me directly at caroline.mulroneyco@gmail.com.”

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