Several families say a long-term care home east of Toronto that’s been ravaged by COVID-19 told them a local hospital would not accept their loved ones who were sick with the disease.

The hospital, Lakeridge Health, said it would never refuse patients who need medical care, and the province said it has never suggested to long-term care homes that hospitals are to be avoided.

The home, Orchard Villa, said it routinely sent sick patients to the local hospital during the pandemic.

But two people whose family members contracted COVID-19 at Orchard Villa allege they hit resistance when they tried to get their loved ones the care they needed.

Cathy Parkes said she knew something was wrong with her father on April 11, her birthday. Paul Parkes had been living at Orchard Villa, in Pickering, Ont., since November, and the usually lucid 86-year-old seemed confused.

She thought he had an infection or was dehydrated, but was told it was a mild fever.

On April 14, Parkes asked to see her father, so a personal support worker helped wheel her father’s bed to the second-floor window. 

“As soon as I saw him — He was on his back, he couldn’t open his mouth, couldn’t open his eyes, he seemed to be comatose,” Cathy Parkes said through tears.

“I got to tell him I love him. I knew then that he was really, really bad.”

She called Lakeridge Health with what she had just seen and her suspicion he had COVID-19. The hospital, she said, told her to call an ambulance to have her father taken there.

She said she spoke to the home’s assistant director, who said her father was fine.

“She said, ‘We’ve had people try to send relatives to the hospital, but the hospital won’t accept them,'” Parkes alleges.

Parkes pushed back, saying she had just spoken to the hospital and they were ready to accept her father.

“She said ‘Then they’re lying to you.'”

Confused and bewildered, Parkes relented that day. Around noon the next day, she took a call from Orchard Villa. Her father had died.

“It’s outrageous. We wanted him to go to the hospital, but they refused and treated him like a prisoner,” Parkes said.

That same week, Simon Nisbet had been visiting his 89-year-old mother, Doreen Nisbet, every day outside her window at Orchard Villa.

She had become confused and looked sick, he said, and he often saw her tray of food untouched.

But Nisbet said he struggled to get information about his mother’s health, and by this time, he had heard of resistance from the home to sending sick residents to the hospital.

On April 21, on order from the local public health unit, Lakeridge Health stepped in to take over the lead on monitoring, investigating and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak at Orchard Villa.

The next day, Nisbet took a call from Orchard Villa who said his mother had tested positive for COVID-19.

The hospital called soon after with concerns about his mother’s dropping blood pressure, and he decided to get her out of Orchard Villa.

He called the home and told a woman who answered the phone he was taking his mom to the hospital.

“They say, ‘Oh really, I don’t think so,'” he said. “Then I said, ‘I’m standing right outside and she’s going to the hospital.'”

The home complied and Nisbet’s mother was sent to the hospital.

She survived, but Nisbet said her kidneys were damaged from dehydration.

“It’s neglect,” he said.

Jason Gay, the executive director of Orchard Villa, did not directly respond to allegations the home refused to send sick residents to the hospital.

“Over the course of the outbreak, 26 residents were taken in by Lakeridge Health hospital and a few residents remain in this hospital receiving care,” he said.

He said staff, in consultation with the resident’s physician, evaluate whether hospitalization is needed, unless it is an emergency.

“If a resident requires hospital care, the registered staff or doctor will reach out to the hospital and have a discussion,” he said. “This is standard practice.”

A spokeswoman for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, said “at no point throughout this pandemic has the Chief Medical Officer of Health or our government suggested” sick patients not be taken to hospital.

“The decision of whether to send long-term care residents who have COVID-19 to hospital is made on a case-by-case basis by a physician in consultation with the resident and their family,” Gillian Sloggett said.

“If residents who tested positive for COVID-19 require medical attention that the long-term care home is unable to provide, these residents are transferred to hospital to meet their health-care needs.”

Lakeridge Health, for its part, said it is “always ready to provide care to any person who comes to us,” though a spokeswoman declined to comment on specific cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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