People with loved ones who are living at, or died at, the Tendercare long-term care home in Scarborough held a second day of protests on Tuesday to call on the provincial government to provide more help.
The family members who spoke to QP Briefing described struggling to get information on how their loved ones were doing and their concerns that there has not been enough staff to keep the residents cared for since the outbreak began in early December.
The 254-bed facility has 117 active resident cases and 43 residents have died, according to provincial data, making it the site of one of the most severe outbreaks in the second wave of COVID-19 in Ontario.
North York General Hospital signed an agreement with the home on Dec. 25 to take over its management from senior care giant Extendicare. Hospital staff have since been providing help, including helping connect residents to their loved ones and the situation has stabilized, NYGH said in a statement.
Several of the residents' loved ones said they have not been allowed to visit or provide care since the outbreak began over a month ago, despite a provincial policy allowing every resident to have one essential caregiver who can access the home in personal protective equipment.
Jenny Diep was an exception — she was allowed to visit her mother in the hours before she died on Christmas Eve.
"When I got inside, it was like a hell — nobody there," she said. "It was so quiet."
Normally, she would see seniors moving about the home but on Christmas Eve the halls were nearly vacant. She said she saw one resident, a friend of her mother, standing up in a doorway with a confused look in her eyes, adding that most of the staff the residents know are gone and they don't know what is going on.
She described meeting a worker who cared for her mother and admitted being overworked and caring for 10 people alone.
Doris Wai said her family was informed her grandmother had COVID-19 in early December but was asymptomatic. The family was only told she had lost appetite but was otherwise fine before she passed away, and now believe she may have died from dehydration and a lack of food.
Without any information, they weren't able to make any informed decisions on what care she should receive or advocate for her to be taken to hospital.
"We were not even aware that she was on the brink of death," said Wai.
Jane Ho, whose mother is COVID-positive and living in the home, said she was waiting for an update on her condition while she attended the protest. She'd been told she wasn't eating and wanted to be sure she was being kept hydrated and strong enough to fight off the virus.
She said she wanted people to know that the provincial government and the home's management aren't doing enough — and that calling in the hospital on December 25 when the home was already overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases was too late.
Ho and other protesters said the government needs to call in the military or the Red Cross to help.
On Dec. 23, the province announced the federal government has agreed to fund the Red Cross to assist 20 long-term care homes in addition to the seven they have already aided. However, as of Monday, the Ministry of Long-Term Care said the government was still working with the Red Cross to determine which homes should receive help.
“We are deeply concerned with the situation at Tendercare Living Centre," said a spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton in an email on Tuesday. "As the lead in the home, NYGH can, through the Ministry, request Canadian Red Cross support and those decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with partners."
Some opposition MPPs joined the protest.
Liberal MPP Michael Coteau said the families of residents "feel abandoned, alone and let down by this government."
"Even the most simple request to meet the minister responsible has fallen short," he said. "I find it so unacceptable, that after so much time, our long-term care facilities in Ontario are experiencing such chaos and loss of life."
NDP MPP Marit Stiles said Fullerton and Premier Doug Ford "have a lot to answer for" because the tragedies like what's happening at Tendercare shouldn't still be happening nearly a year into the pandemic.
"I honestly feel that we should not be in this place, these families should not have to be fighting for the lives of their loved ones in this moment," she said. "We know what needed to happen, it could have been done months and months ago."