"Three months without a shower:" Social media users raise alarm on Ontario long-term care homes

Elianna Lev
·6 min read
People protest outside the Tendercare Living Centre long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. This LTC home has been hit hard by the coronavirus during the second wave. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
People protest outside the Tendercare Living Centre long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. This LTC home has been hit hard by the coronavirus during the second wave. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A video of an Ontario woman whose grandparents are in a long-term care home has gone viral, as she shares a heartbreaking plea for the government to take more action.

In the video, a woman who identifies herself as Natasha says that it has been three months since her loved one received a shower. She calls out Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton to intervene, as what she has experienced via her family members is unacceptable.

In a follow-up video, she says her mother has asked her to share a letter, and reads that aloud.

The videos are two of dozens that have been shared on social media this month, in an effort to draw attention to the conditions of Ontario’s long-term care homes.

The hashtag #STOPTHESENICIDE was recently launched to raise awareness of the appalling conditions and lack of dignity that patients in care homes are facing, as COVID-19 continues to spread, particularly to the most vulnerable.

Maureen McDermott is the organizer of Voices of LTC, which is demanding change and raising awareness of the conditions in long term care in Ontario. While they’ve organized various protests outside care homes across Ontario, which have been attended by the likes of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, she decided to take the action online in light of the new lockdown measures. And while people have been using social media to vent their frustrations about the treatment of loved ones, it felt like it was falling on deaf ears. The shocking stories about the conditions in long term care during the pandemic continued.

“We thought instead of highlighting what we need changed, let’s just show why we need it changed and what’s happening behind the walls, to the families, the emotional heartache,” she tells Yahoo Canada.

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Loved ones who have gone months without being bathed and residents having to bang on the wall to get the attention of staff are just some of the anecdotes being shared on social media with the hashtag. McDermott has experienced the nightmare first hand with her elderly mother Elsie, who suffers from various illnesses including Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia and Alzeheimer’s. Since the pandemic, McDermott has had to navigate being separated from her mother for months and hasn’t received clear information about her wellbeing.

The group of activists are demanding that more help is sent in immediately, including the military. McDermott stresses they aren’t calling for the Red Cross, as they aren’t trained medical professionals, though she admits they could be useful to comfort residents by keeping them company. The group would also like to see a similar model used in Quebec, with the funding Ontario has received from the federal government.

“Hire thousands of staff, pay them $21 an hour to train and then when they’re employed, pay them $26 an hour,” she says. “That’s what Quebec did this summer in preparation for the second wave. Our government did very little to prepare for it.”

McDermott also wants to see meaningful inspections from the Ministry of Long Term Care. She alleges that current inspections are planned in advance rather than by surprise. Through those inspections, she’d like to see licenses revoked at facilities that aren’t following proper protocol.

“The inspections need to mean something,” she says. “I’ve made complaints to the ministry and I’ve been hung up on on their complaint line.”

In the long term, McDermott wants to see a shift from a for-profit system. She’d also like to see the enactment of Bill 203, the More Than A Visitor Act, which was presented to parliament by MPP Lisa Gretzky. The bill proposes that the Minister “respect and promote certain rights for persons receiving care, support or services in congregate care settings and their designated caregivers.” It’s currently on its second reading, though the legislature isn’t expected to reopen until mid-February.

“They need to get back to work,” says McDermott. “It is an absolute humanitarian crisis. Put pen to paper and push through the bill so we can have meaningful access to our loved ones before we’re planning their funerals.”

The Ministry of Long Term Care has yet to respond to a request for comment.