The daughter of a nursing home resident in Toronto says she is angry and worried that not enough is being done to protect some of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judy Vena’s 84-year-old mother, Janet Tomasek, lives with dementia at Vermont Square in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. She calls her mom often and says she wants to do everything she can to protect her mom from the disease.
“You just keep yourself safe and strong for me please,” Vena tells her mother. “I love you.”
Vena says she was first notified about seven cases at the long-term care home on Wednesday and that the outbreak has been growing ever since.
Vermont Square tells CTV News Toronto that at least 37 residents and 19 staff members have been infected with COVID-19.
“She’s a human with a right to a [good] quality of life. She worked her whole life. She gave to everybody. It’s her turn,” Vena said.
Two dozen long-term care homes in the Greater Toronto Area are listed on the Ontario government’s website as experiencing active outbreaks. The hardest hit regions are Mississauga and Toronto, with six active outbreaks each.
“I’m mortified,” Vena said. “We should have learned from the first [wave]. We shouldn’t have to come this.”
Vermont Square’s executive director, Abiola Awosanya, told CTV News Toronto Monday that staff and residents will be re-swabbed Tuesday and Wednesday and the process will continue every five days.
“All new and ongoing government and public health directives and infection prevention and control protocols continue to be followed. Our families have been informed, and the home is closed to visitors, with the exception of essential caregivers,” she said in an emailed statement.
In response to follow up questions Tuesday, Awosanya said enhanced cleaning measures are underway at the facility, adding that residents are isolated to their rooms with in-room meal service and communal dining has been suspended.
However, Vena says those measures don’t go far enough.
She is calling on the facility to conduct for more testing, while also pushing for stricter protocols at the home including more separation between residents who have contracted COVID-19 and healthy residents like her mom.
“I just want something to be done. More sanitization. More staff. They need the help,” Vena said.
Ministry of Long-Term Care responds
Last week the province announced over half a billion dollars in funding to support long-term care homes through subsequent waves of COVID-19.
The funding means those facilities will be provided with a minimum two month supply of protective equipment as well as the flexibility to hire additional staff.
Advocates have said the move is critical after there were more than 1,900 deaths in the sector during the first wave and the Canadian military reported abuse and neglect because of understaffing issues.
“Currently, there are only a small number of long-term care homes that have resident cases – 12 out of 626 homes,” said a spokesperson with the Ministry of Long-Term Care.
The spokesperson added that supports and action include the flexibility and funds to create emergency bed capacity, the ability to rapidly hire the nurses and other frontline staff while restricting the movement of staff between homes and other healthcare settings to limit the spread of the disease.
The government has also taken measures to partner with hospitals to support homes with medical expertise, enable hospitals to deploy health professionals to homes experiencing critical staffing shortages and limit the admission of residents to ward rooms where an outbreak is more difficult to contain.
As of Oct. 5, long-term care homes in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region and other COVID-19 hotspots will be limited to staff, essential visitors and essential caregivers only with strict measures in place.
“In addition, proactive surveillance testing, including testing of all symptomatic and asymptomatic staff, and symptomatic residents, continues to be done in long-term care homes. Homes should continue to ensure that all staff receive at least two COVID-19 tests per month,” the spokesperson said.
“Testing includes all individuals working in long-term care homes, including frontline workers, management, food-service workers and contracted service providers.”