Manitoba needs ‘SWAT team approach’ to protect seniors, says daughter of woman in home with COVID-19 cases

My mother is in a personal care home in Winnipeg and its first two cases of COVID-19 were announced two weeks ago — one of them on my mom’s floor.  

We thought that these cases were isolated and under control. Modern facility, single-resident rooms, fantastic staff, great management. My stoic 89-year-old mom, physically challenged from a stroke, but vibrant and still sharp, mentally.  

With horrible thoughts of Ontario and Quebec during the first wave of this pandemic, I was cautiously optimistic that we could beat this and that Manitoba was prepared.

It took several days before I found out that personal care homes are not mandated to conduct prioritized, on-site COVID-19 testing of potentially exposed staff.  

It seems that those who may have been exposed have to go and line up with the rest of the general population, waiting days to get their results. 

Do they have to get tested on their own time? Are these tests fast tracked? Do they get paid sick leave while waiting on their results? 

While they sit and wait, precious staff support is taken away from residents, many of whom have been isolated in their rooms under complete lockdown for weeks. Several staff have now tested positive, which means more staff and residents are at risk.

I wake up each morning sick to my stomach, unable to focus, waiting to hear the daily numbers as they climb higher and higher. 

Cruel confinement

Another resident tests positive in a third, completely different area of the building, and there are two tragic deaths within the first 10 days. Were their families allowed to comfort them in their last moments?  

I cringe every time I receive another update, yet am so grateful that our home is being transparent. I can’t help but glare at anyone not wearing a mask, or getting too close to me.  

We try to explain all of this to our mom over the phone. She survived the first lockdown — five months of semi-isolation without her family’s daily visits. Just before we were allowed back in, she was getting anxious and hysterical, with no way to calm her down over the phone.   

Leah de Forest’s mother recently tested negative for COVID-19, but struggles with a ‘broken heart’ from the loneliness of life during the pandemic. (Submitted by Leah de Forest)

Her mental trauma has bubbled up quickly since this latest shutdown began — now in complete isolation in her room, she is losing touch with reality, feeling like she is “going crazy,” unable to follow simple commands, crying and wailing.  

In my mind, it is not “dementia setting in” as one worker suggested, but post-traumatic stress disorder. This type of solitary confinement is considered cruel for political prisoners, never mind the elders of our society.      

We know that COVID-19 is exploding exponentially in Winnipeg, that there is community spread, and that there are asymptomatic carriers of this illness.

If COVID-19 doesn’t kill her, she may just die of a broken heart.– Leah de Forest

We just received an update that there are asymptomatic residents who have tested positive in our home. What about all of the asymptomatic employees who aren’t being tested? The provincial government needs to focus their attention on these homes, and stop trying to distract with empty threats of fines and curfews.  

We don’t need more situations like Parkview Place or the Maples — these two disasters should be proof enough that intervention needs to start early.

Pay staff for ‘hard and dangerous work’

This government needs to take a SWAT team approach to stop the spread and circumvent this virus at its earliest stages.  

Put appropriate funding into prioritized fast-tracked testing of all residents and personal care home staff to get a clear picture of the scope of the problem as early as possible.  

Provide adequate personal protective equipment.

Pay these staff a living wage to keep them in the job — or better yet, a wage that recognizes the valuable work they are doing to keep our loved ones safe and sane. How else can you hope to recruit and retain people who will do this incredibly hard and dangerous work?  

‘I need more freedom’

Keeping cases under control also allows for essential family members to provide compassionate mental and emotional support and lessen the workload of these overworked staff.    

We just found out that my mother was not one of the asymptomatic residents who tested positive. However, she recently said to me, “I need more freedom,” and talks about the end being near. 

She is now having trouble using both the phone and help button, her two lifelines.

When will we be able to see her again?  

If COVID-19 doesn’t kill her, she may just die of a broken heart.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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