As the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada has shown to be particularly problematic for long-term care homes, loved ones on the outside have been subjected to a life of fear with little access to the inside.
Mona Atrzadeh’s father Behzad has been living at the Baycrest centre in Toronto for eight years after a fall down the stairs left him paralyzed. Due to fear of a COVID-19 spread in the facility, contacting him in person is difficult.
“It's really scary right now to think about what could possibly happen to them,” Atrzadehtold CTV News. “We really feel hopeless right now.”
“My dad is very vulnerable. One of the number one reasons why someone who is quadriplegic passes away is usually from pneumonia. I can't imagine losing my dad. It scares me to death.”
The fear of a COVID-19 spread in one of these facilities is very real. Just this week alone, 17 people died at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcageyon, Ont., due to a spread of the virus inside the facility.
On Wednesday, Brittany Perry told CTV Toronto she found out her mother had passed away at the nursing home while she stood outside her window to say goodbye.
“To go there with a mindset that you are going to say your goodbyes and for you to just be at this window, in the rain and it’s freezing cold, and for them to say: ‘Sorry your mom is gone,’ it’s very difficult,” Perry said.
In British Columbia, the majority of the province’s 25 deaths are connected to long-term care facilities.
The outbreaks are part of the reason why Tara Moriary drove four hours from northern Ontario to Toronto to take her 76-year-old mother Maureen out of the Cedarbrooke Lodge to live with her family.
“It's very hard to take care of my mom ourselves, but I think the time is now where we actually need to help out by taking her out,” Moriary said. “The homes are going to need every bit of help they can get,”
Given the circumstances,Dr. Henry Sui, a long-term doctor at the Regina Gardens LTC Residences in Hamilton, Ont., said now might be the appropriate time for people to have some hard conversations with their loved ones about the end of their life, even if these conversations can’t be done in person.
“These conversations that should be happening now in long-term care is understanding what your loved ones want for their end of life,” Sui said. “This whole situation is going to fast-track some of these conversations.”
While there are no confirmed cases at the Cedarbrooke Lodge, Moriary worries staff could soon be stretched too thinly to help her mother.
“What I fear for her is being in a home where there are not enough staff to provide basic levels of care,” she said. “She needs a lot of personal care every day.”
These fears are heightened by the fact that hospitals and long-term care homes are the verge of a shortage when it comes to personal protective equipment. On Thursday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that Canada "likely did not have enough" personal protective equipment stockpiled ahead of the pandemic.
"We are working I would say 24 hours, around the clock, trying to procure equipment in a global situation where equipment is extremely tight," Hajdu said. "Our government has the money, we have the will, we have the workforce, and everybody's focus is firmly on getting PPE."
To help address this shortage, the federal government announced on Tuesday that it secured more than 157 million surgical masks and more than 60 million N95 masks. Additional masks were also purchased on Wednesday.
Despite these purchases, some still worry their loved ones will not be given the proper medical care due to a shortage in supply, while the premium treatment will instead be given to younger patients.
“They also matter,” said Atrzadeh. “Just because they're older, doesn’t mean they matter any less.”
Timothy Christie, a medical ethicist and the regional director of ethics services for Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick, told CTVNews.ca earlier this week that health-care providers can’t base their decisions on who gets the best care on age, race, religion, sex, prejudices, and arbitrary criteria, such as the patient’s influence or who they know.
Instead, they will likely have to choose based on who is expected to live longer if they receive the treatment.