By: Mike Anderson
With Southlake’s 90-day takeover of River Glen Haven set to end on August 24, family members took to the streets last Friday, calling on the province to stop the handover to ATK Care, the home’s owner, and extend its mandatory management order.
A small but determined group of demonstrators, led by Maureen McDermott, rallied in front of the nursing home, holding up signs and receiving honks of support from passing motorists.
“I’ve been asking for extensions. I’ve been begging for Southlake to stay on. My calls have been completely ignored. So I was left with no choice. I honestly am feeling like I’m fighting for my mother’s life with ATK Care,” said Ms. McDermott, who’s 93-year-old mother, Elsie, is a resident of RGH.
“ATK Care is coming back on August 24, just in time for the second wave. Look at what happened in the first wave: 37 lives were lost.
I almost lost my mother. She was diagnosed COVID positive on Mother’s Day. She has COPD, dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s nothing short of a miracle that she’s still here with us. I don’t think she’ll survive the second wave. So I’m literally fighting for my mother’s life and the rest of the lives there.”
Alexandria Batten’s grandmother is also a resident at RGH. She believes that 90-days isn’t enough time to solve the problems at the home.
“I’m here to use my voice to demand better care in long-term care homes. And specifically for my Oma, who is in River Glen Haven. She was COVID positive and isolated for more than four and a half months. I’ve seen her health, both physical and mental, severely deteriorate. And I’m just here to fight for her,” she said.
“I don’t want ATK Care to get their license back. I don’t think they’re ready. I think they need more preparation, more planning, and adequate staff on the floors.”
Despite improvements under Southlake’s management, she said there are still issues at the nursing home that need addressing.
On a recent visit, she saw PPE not being correctly used, and empty sanitization stations.
She also said her grandmother, who’s blind and has dementia, isn’t getting the extra liquids she needs to avoid dehydration.
“They just leave them in a clear cup on her desk. She’s blind. She can’t see that. She has dementia. She doesn’t know what it’s for,” she said.
Family members were joined by two Ontario NDP MPPs, Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky and Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, outspoken critics of the Ford government’s handling of LTC homes during the pandemic.
Both are adamant that ATK Care should not be allowed back into River Glen Haven.
“It shouldn’t happen because the private owner of this facility, and the government, have not addressed systemic issues, like staffing levels,” said Ms. Gretzky, who is also the Ontario NDP critic for community and social services.
“The situation here is still very precarious. And to bring that private owner back in and hand the keys over when those systemic issues haven’t been addressed, I think is putting the residents at great risk. Thirty-seven people died here because profits were being put before care.”
Mr. Gates also believes chronic staffing shortages contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in privately-run LTC homes, like RGH, and wants the province to take them over.
“The company that owned this home caused the problem in this community. Thirty-seven people lost their lives unnecessarily,” he said.
“In private-run homes, there are shareholders and CEOs, only 49 cents of every dollar goes into the care of residents. In a publicly funded long-term care facility, it’s 79 cents. The reality is that the profit that is being driven into the shareholder’s and the CEO’s hands should be going back into care.”
While there is still time for the province to extend it’s mandatory management order, Southlake is proceeding as planned with the handover, according to a spokesperson from the hospital.
“Southlake’s team is currently working with River Glen Haven’s owners and the Ministry of Long-Term Care on a plan to transition the day-to-day management of the home back to its owner, based on the timelines that the Ministry has established,” said Matt Haggerty in an email that was received just before the demonstration was set to begin.
“As of August 24, Southlake’s staff will not be at the home day-to-day but will continue to be available to support and provide advice to the home should the owner request assistance in the future.”
That email did not sit well with Ms. McDermott.
“Today is nothing compared to what a child will do to fight for their mother’s life. You know, we can get pretty damn crazy — like chaining myself to the sign, which might happen. This is ridiculous. This is not a place to be making money, open a car dealership or something. Leave our loved ones alone, revoke your license and do the right thing.”
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