By: Mike Anderson
It was a sweltering 32 degrees Celsius outside on River Glen Haven’s garden patio last Thursday afternoon, but that didn’t keep Maureen McDermott from celebrating her mother Elsie’s 93rd birthday with balloons and buttercream cupcakes.
After all, it was the first time they’d been together since mid-March when the Sutton LTC home went into lock-down as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19.
“It was like somebody just took a fuel tank and filled me right up again,” said Ms. McDermott, who wore a mask and sanitized her hands before sitting across the table from her mother. “We both cried. And she said, you know, this has been really hard not doing this,” she said.
Ms. McDermott was one of 25 initial family visits that began on July 9; her next visit is scheduled for July 16.
Family members must follow strict visitor guidelines. They must attest to a negative COVID test in the past 14 days, undergo a temperature check, maintain physical distancing, wear a face mask at all times, use hand sanitizer and adhere to a strict 45-minute time limit.
The visits are carefully coordinated by RGH recreational staff, although physical distancing is sometimes a challenge as family members desperately want to hug their loved ones.
“They were very thorough in their questioning and their screening. It felt so weird being so supervised. But I love Susan, the recreational director that was out there. She’s incredible. But I don’t know how I would have felt if it was somebody I didn’t know,” Ms. McDermott said.
River Glen Haven experienced one of the worst LTC outbreaks in York Region. Over 66 days, 90 residents and 37 staff tested positive, and 36 residents died from COVID-19.
With RGH unable to contain the outbreak, which began on April 27, the province ordered Southlake Regional Health Centre to take over the LTC home from its operator, ATK Care Inc., on May 25 for 90 days.
Under Southlake’s leadership, the LTC home contained the spread of the virus, and public health declared the outbreak officially over on July 2.
Elsie was one of the lucky residents at RGH. Although she tested positive for COVID-19 on Mother’s Day, her symptoms were mild. She was able to recover without medical intervention, despite having a series of underlying conditions, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“She’s here today. And that to me, that’s incredible because we thought if she got hit with COVID, we’d be saying goodbye,” said Ms. McDermott.
“I feel so incredibly privileged, and I’m just so grateful for Southlake. And that’s why we need Southlake to stay.”
Ms. McDermott has written a letter to Premier Doug Ford urging the province to extend Southlake’s management past the 90 days, which is due to expire on August 24, until a full inquiry can review how ATK Care Inc. and RGH administration handled the outbreak.
“Thirty-six lives have been lost during this first wave. Myself and several other families feel that we don’t have any confidence in the management/ownership of RGH for a second wave of COVID, which is being talked about as inevitable,” wrote Ms. McDermott in the letter to the Premier, which was also forwarded to Caroline Mulroney, MPP York-Simcoe, Christine Elliott, Ontario Minister of Health, and Andrea Horwarth, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) and Ontario’s Official Opposition.
“Southlake Hospital and their team have increased communication, accountability, transparency, resident care, infection control, proper use of PPE, and ending the outbreak. Although the admin is still very present and active, they have continued to ignore our emails — just as they ignored our cries for help when this all began.
Please, tell your Health Minister, Minister of LTC, our Premier, to extend the stay for Southlake at Riverglen. At least for another 90 days, if not permanently. The elder genocide that was responsible for losing 36 lives, and so many more around the province, must end — and never, ever happen again.”
Meanwhile, ATK Care Inc. faces a series of lawsuits from family members who lost loved ones during the outbreak. The plaintiffs claim that the company was negligent and failed in its fiduciary duty to protect residents. However, these claims have yet to be proven in court.