Her grandmother is in a small town long-term care home north of London where nearly two-thirds of the residents are stricken by COVID-19, but Stacey Palen is remaining optimistic.
Palen is doing what she can to help her 93-year-old grandmother and the others at Exeter Villa, in Exeter, by raising funds to support those affected.
Thirty-one residents at the 53-bed home, plus eight staff members, are or have been infected with COVID-19 and two have died during this oubreak, amid a resurgence of the virus that's taking a new toll on the elderly in care homes across Ontario.
Palen's grandmother is one of those infected.
Palen has made it her mission to boost staff and resident morale at Exeter Villa, raising more than $15,000 to support them.
“I noticed they need something, they need a pick-me-up, they need to feel there is a lot of support around them,” she said. “That’s what pushed me to do something.”
The funds will provide premade meals, gift cards and care packages for staff, and special lunches, dinners and desserts for the residents. Extra technology will also be purchased to help isolated residents stay connected with their loved ones.
Palen said the rapid flood of donations speaks to the tight-knit Exeter community.
“When you’re looking at a small community, there are just so many ties to that home,” she said. “You either know somebody who works there or lives there, or your long-term plan is maybe that you’re going to end up looking into that for your own mother or father one day.”
Seven long-term care and retirement homes in Huron and Perth counties have active outbreaks.
Palen, who used to work in long-term care, said during the more than 10 years her grandmother has lived at Exeter Villa, first in the retirement home and then in long-term care, the staff have become her friends.
The fundraiser has been a welcome distraction for those impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s given them something to think about that’s not related maybe to what’s going on,” Palen said.
“We’re feeling quite loved and supported,” said Erika King, Exeter Villa’s administrator.
Despite her desire to focus on the positive and “what we can control” as COVID-19 rages in long-term care homes in the province, Palen said it’s still painful not being by her grandmother’s side, whom she calls one of her best friends.
“It’s been difficult not being the one to go in and bring her extra stuff. It definitely has played on all of our emotions,” she said. “To give her credit, I’ve usually been calling her and weepy, and she turns it around and she’s the positive one for me.”
Palen said her grandmother is in good health despite being infected, adding the pandemic and outbreak at Exeter Villa has tightened their bond, albeit physically apart.
“In a crazy way, it’s almost brought us closer because we can talk more in-depth and open up about our feelings,” she said. “But if someone said tomorrow I could go in and hug her, I’d be running through the front doors.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press