Long-Term Care Home Residents’ Firsthand Accounts Of ‘Inhumane’ Isolation

Sherina Harris
·Reporter, HuffPost Canada
·5 min read
Joyce (no last name given) waves at passing cars honking their horns for support at Orchard Villa retirement and long-term care home in Pickering, Ont. on April 25, 2020.  (Photo: Carlos Osorio / Reuters)
Joyce (no last name given) waves at passing cars honking their horns for support at Orchard Villa retirement and long-term care home in Pickering, Ont. on April 25, 2020. (Photo: Carlos Osorio / Reuters)

Residents in Ontario’s long-term care homes say they are depressed, suffering in isolation without social activities or family visits and watching their friends’ health decline.

In a January interview with the province’s long-term care commission, they called for facilities’ management and other decision makers to “walk a mile in our shoes.”

“They get to go home at the end of their so-called eight hours a day. We stay here all the time. They don’t know what we go through,” one resident, Sandy M, told the commission.

Residents’ last names were not listed in the commission transcript.

Another resident, Robert K, said because he’s not able to read or write anymore, he used to enjoy playing chess with volunteers. But now, he has to play on a computer, where it’s hard to see the images because he is almost blind.

“So I am feeling isolated mentally and physically,” he said. “I feel like my brain is in a straight jacket.”

More than 3,000 residents have died of COVID-19 in Ontario’s long-term care homes since the beginning of the pandemic. Workers and families have spoken out about a lack of personal protective equipment and short staffing, and there are new calls for military intervention and other measures to control the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, public health officials confirmed Wednesday some of the cases at one Barrie, Ont., long-term care home are potentially a more transmissible variant of COVID-19. The region’s medical officer of health called the development “extremely concerning.” More than half of the 140 residents at Roberta Place have tested positive for the virus, according to provincial data.

‘We are not being treated like human beings’

A resident named Ann D told the commission the way residents have been treated during the pandemic is “inhumane.”

“We are not being treated like human beings,” she said, adding residents like herself, who are cognitive and able to take care of themselves are lumped in with others who need more support.

“So I think it is a disgrace the way they’ve handled it,” she said. “I think that they have taken abuse of their power by saying that we are just going to lock down the home.”

Ann said she’s noticed residents’ health and wellbeing declining.

“You can see the life is just draining out of their faces.”

Robert told the commision he has lost 20 pounds and has completely lost his appetite to the point where he can’t even look at the food served.

“I think it is a mental reaction to being locked up like an animal and unable to have a conversation because the staff is busy, and most people that I meet out in the hall, they have different interests, and it does not help.”

Sandy said she wishes residents were given a questionnaire to give their input on what’s happening, instead of finding out about new policies days before they come into effect.

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Krystle Caputo, the press secretary for Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton, said in a statement the ministry thanks the commissioners for their hard work. She said resident support aides have started working in “many homes” to help with delivering meals, housekeeping and cleaning, as well as socializing with residents.

Caputo also pointed to the province’s new staffing plan, which she said will create more than 27,000 new positions. The province will invest up to $1.9 billion annually until 2024-25 to implement the staffing plan, and commit to having residents receive four hours of direct care per day by that year.

The province has given $1.38 billion in funding to the long-term care sector during the pandemic.

‘Everything is hush hush’

Another resident, Maria S, agreed that residents seem to be kept out of the loop on what’s happening.

“Things aren’t being communicated to residents,” she told commissioners. “A lot of us are cognitive, well aware of what is going on. I mean, it is like your ears are always out there because you want to know what is going on … everything is hush hush.”

“Like, excuse me, I’m a cognitive resident. I want to know what is going on. I would like to know ahead of time. Don’t leave me out in the cold.”

Asked what the residents want the commissioners to know, Joanne A said “That residents are getting depressed, majorly depressed.”

She said there needs to be more programming for residents in long-term care, and maybe more staff, or even volunteers, to help facilitate those activities. Without more help for staff, Joanne said she’s worried about burnout.

During the pandemic, general visitors to long-term care are not allowed. Only people designated as essential caregivers, who provide essential support to a resident, are allowed into homes while Ontario is on lockdown.

Maria said her home was so short-staffed at one point that residents went almost two weeks without a shower.

She also noted the isolation has been even more difficult for residents who have dementia.

“The only time they have any contact with anyone is with feeding and dressing. So it has been a long haul of loneliness and no interaction except with your staff and, again, that is limited interaction.”

Earlier on HuffPost:

This article has been updated with a statement from the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.