'The bodies are going out the door': Inside a Toronto long-term care home
TORONTO -- Jarring images have come out this week of the Canadian military rolling up to what has become the frontlines of COVID-19 in Canada: long-term care homes.
But at one Toronto care home, the only thing supporting residents and keeping family members’ hopes alive is the few employees who are still able to come to work.
At Mon Sheong Home for the Aged, there has been no formal request for military help. Management says the process would take too long and they’re hoping local hospitals and volunteers will come to their aid.
Only 20 of the regular 80 staff members are left to battle an outbreak that has infected almost half of the residents, and left 25 dead.
“The bodies are going out the door and nobody's coming in to help these people,” said Helen Lee, whose grandmother resided in the home before her death on Friday.
“That nursing home needs help, they need staff. They need specialists. They cannot do it on their own anymore.”
Lee’s grandmother, Foon Hay Lum, was one of the oldest living Canadians. Born in 1909, she was 111-year-old when she died.
For a short time, there was hope that a nearby hospital would provide desperately needed staff.
“We were supposed to have three or four additional people,” said Mon Sheong CEO Stephanie Wong. She said these potential workers had called with second thoughts to say they couldn't help.
On Wednesday, Ontario and Quebec called for the federal government to deploy troops to assist with the dire situation in their long-term care homes. The two provinces are the hardest hit by COVID-19, and hundreds have died in care homes alone.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday in a press conference that military troops would answer the requests from specific long-term care homes.
"Our women and men in uniform will step up with the valour and courage they have always shown," Trudeau said.
"But this is not a long-term solution. In Canada, we shouldn't have soldiers taking care of seniors.”
The federal government has received only eight official requests so far that have translated into military action, three of which were related to long-term care homes.
The goal is for members of the Armed Forces to work alongside staff, not replace them, at the care homes they support. But they are only offering support in response to requests, which leaves out many residents living at a home that has not placed a formal request.
As long-term care homes become hotbeds of COVID-19 one by one, it has taken its toll on staff numbers -- and the level of care offered to residents.
Dr. Tim Lee’s mother and father both tested positive. His father’s last days in his care home, he says, were inhumane.
“No staff around to ask for anything,” he told CTV News. “I would call the staff and plead with them to get him a thermos of water.”
Lee said his father “could barely get up out of bed,” and couldn’t go to the bathroom.
Shortly before his death, he had waved goodbye to his son from a third-floor window.
Lee, standing outside the care home, had spoken to him on the phone.
“He was saying, ‘I see you,’” he told CTV News. “I said, ‘Yeah, Dad, I see you too. I love you, Dad.’ I just wanted him to know that.”
It’s not only Lee’s mother either. The health of too many other residents inside this home is fading as the pandemic take its toll.
“We pride ourselves on being progressive, intelligent, educated,” Helen Lee said, speaking through tears. “This will be a shameful period of our history if we cannot turn this around.”