Families protest outside Scarborough long-term care home to demand more provincial help

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Dozens of people demonstrated outside a Scarborough long-term care home on Tuesday to demand that the province take more action to help the facility as it fights to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.

Tendercare Living Centre has lost 48 residents to COVID-19 as of Monday, according to North York General Hospital (NYGH), which has been asked by the Ontario government to help manage the home temporarily. Tendercare has 254 beds.

Currently, 101 residents and 53 staff members have active cases of COVID-19, the hospital said in a news release Tuesday.

Jessica Wong, an organizer of the protest and a Pickering resident, held a sign that read: "Help Tendercare staff now."

Her grandmother, Jean Wan Cheung, 82, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 22. She said her grandmother is weak, tired and not eating very much. She has been at the home for at least 10 years.

Wong said demonstrators want the government to ensure the home has enough staff to look after residents properly and to draft better plans to ensure residents are safe in the future.

Family members have not been receiving enough information about their loved ones with COVID-19, she said.

"My grandmother has been through so much and she deserves dignity. And I know that one day she's going to get old and pass, but at least pass with dignity," Wong said.

Wong said family members are giving each other support as their loved ones struggle with the virus.

"We want to be here for each other and support each other and act fast because every day that goes by, unfortunately, we've been seeing deaths every day for the past 10 days."

The government has issued what is called a "voluntary management contract" between the home and NYGH. It took effect on Friday and is in place for 90 days.

Under the contract, the hospital provides "enhanced support" to the home, is working to bring stability to the situation and help the home return to normal operations.

Talia Ricci/CBC
Talia Ricci/CBC

Hospital says nursing levels have improved at home

Janine Hopkins, chief communications officer for NYGH, said in the release that progress is being made to manage the outbreak but the home still needs more nurses. She said the 53 staff members with COVID-19 are isolating at their homes.

Twenty resident cases and 38 staff cases at the home have been marked as resolved. Of the 38 staff with resolved cases, 13 have been able to return to work.

"Today, as the result of the collective efforts of health professionals from different organizations who have been recruited to assist Tendercare and of the Tendercare staff who have returned to work, nursing levels have improved significantly at the long-term care home," Hopkins said.

"These extra nurses are providing enhanced care to both residents with COVID-19 and those who tested negative, many of whom have complex health care needs. Our critical task is to sustain these levels over the coming weeks and until such time as the home stabilizes."

Hopkins said efforts are being made to bring the outbreak under control.

"Despite the extremely high demand for health professionals across Ontario and the current strain on the entire health system as we fight COVID-19, these remarkable health professionals are working hard to protect and care for residents and support families," she said.

Tendercare is managed by Extendicare (Canada) Inc.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Earlier, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to replace Long Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton because she said homes such as Tendercare are in "desperate crisis" and Fullteron is not doing enough as the virus "rips through" the facilities again.

Family members across Ontario are deeply worried, Horwath said in a news release on Tuesday.

"Merrilee Fullerton has been focused on politically motivated talking points, brushing off the severity of the crisis in long-term care to avoid having to make the investments needed to stop the spread and protect our loved ones from this horrific virus," Horwath said.

"Doug Ford needs to replace her with someone who understands the urgency and will fight for seniors."

Horwath said the province should hire thousands of personal support workers and that every home needs infection prevention and control specialists. For homes such as Tendercare, she said the premier should bring in the Canadian Red Cross and Canadian Armed Forces.

Tendercare is 1 of 194 long-term care homes in outbreak

On Tuesday, the province reported that there were 194 long-term care homes in outbreak. The number is 35 more than a week ago, when there were 159 homes in outbreak, according to the NDP.

On Monday, the government announced it is creating a new specialized care centre to help homes manage outbreaks. It said the centre is open and that homes in the Greater Toronto Area can refer residents to it.

In a news release, Fullerton said the centre will provide "new surge capacity spaces" for residents who must be temporarily relocated due to the "challenging situation" in their current homes. It will have up to 90 furnished spaces, but will initially open with 30 spaces.

"By working closely with all of our partners, we are committed to finding innovative solutions to help protect our loved ones as we continue our fight against the second wave of the virus," Fullerton said.

Wong, asked about the NDP's request, said Fullerton did not do enough to protect residents during the first wave and is not doing enough now during the second wave.

"I don't think she is capable at her job," she said.