Hamilton caregiver decries ‘inhumane’ COVID-19 vaccine rollout

·3 min read

An Ancaster woman says housebound seniors and their caregivers are being “forgotten” and “ignored” in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Hamilton.

Ilda Caeiro’s parents-in-law are in their 80s and have complex health issues. Her 81-year-old mother-in-law has “significant” dementia and is incontinent. Her father-in-law, 86, has Stage 4 cancer and is palliative.

The 41-year-old Hamilton Health Sciences social worker says vaccines are the latest example of her efforts to “constantly” advocate for her in-laws’ care during COVID-19. Both parents receive home care, which has been “inconsistent,” so she’s been on leave from her job since September.

“I have never had such a hard time advocating and getting services and support for seniors in-home” says Caeiro. “It’s like a full-time case management job.”

Her parents got their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Ancaster Rotary Club pop-up clinic on March 4.

Three people had to help them get ready. Caeiro’s parents-in-law have very restricted mobility and require equipment to move them from a bed to a wheelchair. Her mother-in-law uses a special wheelchair too large to fit in a car. So, they booked a DARTS ride for the appointment.

After they got their vaccines, the family was waiting for the DARTS bus to pick them up when Caeiro’s mother-in-law needed to use the washroom. Although there was an accessible stall in the facility’s washroom, Caeiro says it wasn’t big enough for her mother-in-law’s wheelchair.

So, Caeiro says she and another caregiver had to physically lift her out of the chair so she could use the washroom. During that time, her father-in-law was left unattended.

“It was inhumane what we did,” Caeiro said, noting both parents were “distressed.” “My mother-in-law did not have dignity that day.”

Their second doses were scheduled for March 25, but with interval increased to 16 weeks, that appointment was cancelled the night before. Out of concern, Caeiro contacted public health on Thursday to follow up. She says she was told that her parents were already on a list of chronic home care recipients who would receive vaccines from paramedics at home.

That was the first she’d heard about it — three weeks after their first appointment.

“I cannot express to you the magnitude of effort it takes to get these two humans for any medical appointments,” Caeiro said. She wished she’d known sooner that they could have received the vaccine at home.

In an email, public health said it is working “on addressing the logistics” of bringing vaccines to homebound residents by identifying residents who require the service and determining how to transport doses to them.

“Ideally it’s in single-dose syringes, but work is being done to see if other vaccines (six-dose vials) can be utilized,” said spokesperson James Berry, noting public health “is working to move forward with this soon.”

On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford announced $3.7 million to help seniors and people with disabilities access the vaccines by driving residents to appointments or bringing vaccines to their homes. Details are expected “in the coming weeks.”

Asked how public health is supporting the transportation effort, Berry said, “Community members can already access alternative methods to get to large-scale and mobile pop-up vaccination clinics, such as DARTS which is free of charge.

“Mobility should not be a barrier to receiving the vaccine.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator