Simone Goulet is a first-floor resident at Fairview Personal Care Home in Brandon.
As the novel coronavirus fiercely reappeared in Manitoba after a rather quiet summer, Manitoba Public Health announced outbreak after outbreak in personal care homes. Fairview, with 243 residents, was no exception.
When Simone’s daughter, Lorraine Winters, first heard of a positive case at the home, she was petrified.
The province declared the outbreak at the home Nov. 16, 2020. There were 109 cases, all told — 41 staff and 68 residents. There were 18 reported deaths among residents. Manitoba Public Health declared the outbreak over on Feb. 3.
"It’s very scary when your loved one is in there. I’ve since told my kids, I’m not going to personal care. It’s very scary. And, at that age, you’re a 94-year-old, or the age group that is normally in personal care — they depend a lot on their children or their caregiver to go in there and take care of them," said Winters.
"Personal care doesn’t take care of everything. There’s still financial stuff you have to do and talk to them about. There’s still things like cleaning their glasses, when you go there. They depend on you. She says, ‘Every time you come in here, you tidy up my room, and it just looks so nice. You clean out my closet and straighten things out.’"
Moreover, there is the love between mother and daughter, which for some is a tangible force. Hugs from a daughter cannot be replaced.
Winters, who once again visits with her mother in her room Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, said it has been tough on the residents. During the outbreak, staff provided updates by email. Simone tells her that she really appreciates the staff and they take very good care of her.
Winters is relieved her mother is safe, and as she said so, she sighed. The outbreak, for her, felt harrowing.
"When I found out that the virus was in the building, I was going to take her out of there," she said.
"Then I felt that as long as they had it contained fourth and fifth floor, I was kind of OK. But if that had come down any further, I think I would have had her out of there, even if it would have been just for six weeks or two months, or whatever it took to sort it out."
Winters was also very afraid that she might bring the virus into the home and to her mother. Groceries were essentially her only outing. She was not putting herself at risk.
"But you never know, right? That was definitely a concern," she said.
Cynthia Chartrand, care team manager for the home, said four resident families requested to remove their loved one during the outbreak — two of whom ended up requesting to be discharged, while the other two returned.
"They seemed to be doing everything they could to stop the spread. I became more comfortable. I wasn’t as petrified. I think they did a pretty darn good job, to be honest," said Winters.
Fast-forward to March 2021 — the focused immunization teams have travelled to all personal care homes to administer two doses of Moderna vaccine to residents and staff. Simone is among the many residents who consented to double doses.
"At this time, 210 residents obtained the vaccine. We will continue to provide vaccinations to our newly admitted residents on an ongoing basis," said Chartrand.
Winters was ecstatic when she learned the province was rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine to care homes. Her daughter, a nurse, had already been vaccinated. Winters had no reservations.
"In fact, they had phoned me," she said. "It was quite funny because they phoned me and they said, you know, your mom’s hair looks pretty good today. She’s about one of the only ones in this building that has good hair. So can we take her picture?"
Thinking back to March of last year, Winters said it seemed as though the world went gloomy.
"At that time, it seemed like there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. It had just begun, and we’re getting all these conflicting messages from the doctors and they just don’t know what’s going to happen," she said.
"It was more scary, scared of the unknown, at the time."
The Winters have four children, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Before the pandemic, Winters would bring Simone home and family visits with the younger generations took place there. The pandemic halted that family activity. These days, it’s mostly video chats. Simone is beginning to forget names because she doesn’t see them as much.
"That’s pretty hard on her. She used to feel like my kids were her kids, and that’s just not the way it is anymore because they just don’t see her as much. It’s difficult," said Winters.
Simone, as of last week, could only receive visits from family members, aside from Winters and her husband Gary, once every two weeks. Those take place in an outfitted shipping container. Simone and one of her visiting granddaughters, who live close enough to visit, must be physically distanced and masked.
"It’s hard for those older people because my mum doesn’t hear well. Then, if someone’s wearing a mask, she can’t even read their lips. It’s not ideal, let’s put it that way," said Winters.
"And not being able to get out … She’s so anxious to get out of there and come to my house."
Chartrand said some resident activities, including some group activities, have started up again and continue to be reviewed based on the provincial guidelines. Hairdresser services are also now allowed at the facility.
"We are also noticing an increase in scheduled visits within the two outdoor co-visitation shelters located on the grounds of Fairview. With the addition of a second shelter, it has allowed the frequency of general visits to increase from one visit every two weeks to every week," Chartrand said Wednesday.
"Residents are doing as well as possible considering the circumstances, but we know that it has not been easy for personal care home residents and their loved ones."
Staff have worked extremely hard to try to mitigate the impacts whenever possible, Chartrand added. But the pandemic has not been easy on them, either.
"Staff continue to be supported on an ongoing basis in regards to dealing with the after-effects of dealing with the outbreak, the stress that came with it, as well as dealing with the loss of the residents," she said.
As more people in Manitoba, and in Alberta, are vaccinated and restrictions loosen, it’s possible Simone’s son, Denis Goulet, and his wife Gerri may have a better annual visit with her than they did last August. The two drove out from Calgary for a pre-planned, appointment-only visit at the home, only to find the facility in lockdown. They only heard the cancellation voicemail when they arrived home in Calgary.
"I think chances are better than not that we would end up making the trip in August," said Denis, adding, this time, they are likely going to fly.
Last week, he said that’s the intention. That morning, a local newspaper published an article stating the province hoped to have everyone immunized by early summer. At 73, chances are he will get the vaccine sooner rather than later.
"I think chances are better than not that we would end up making the trip in August," said Denis.
"You know what? It is what it is. I expect, though, that things will have opened up by then to some degree."
A total of 1,542 personal care home residents tested positive for COVID-19, along with 750 staff. Twenty-nine cases remained active as of March 2, while the province recorded 445 deaths.
Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun