'Everybody should be treated the same': Families, advocates concerned about seniors in long-term care
HALIFAX -- Some Maritime families with loved ones in long-term care homes affected by COVID-19 are worried sick and considering taking their relatives home for the duration of the pandemic.
Kate Kelly is one of those people.
She lives in Yellowknife, but her elderly brother is a resident at Northwood, a long-term care facility in Halifax.
One Northwood staff member, and two of its home-care program workers, have tested positive for COVID-19.
“It’s terrifying to me. I’m just learning about it today, so I’m really distressed,” says Kelly.
She’s also upset after a Northwood manager recently called to inform her of the facility’s care plan for residents if any were to become sick with the virus.
That plan is now posted on the facility’s website and states that, rather than taking those residents to hospital, Northwood would instead care for residents in “special units equipped to manage this illness.”
The notice states: “The safest and most comfortable place for your loved one to be care for is in Northwood. Doctors in other parts of Canada and the world have learned there is very little benefit when older, frail people with COVID-19 go to the hospital."
The notice is signed by Northwood’s medical director, Dr. Barry Clarke, and Josie Ryan, a registered nurse and the facility’s executive director of long-term care.
“It’s very, very upsetting because I’m so far way and there seems to be very little I can do,” says Kelly.
She’s considering coming to Halifax and taking her brother out of the care home, although she’s not sure how to make that work, since she would have to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
She’s also uncertain if she could find a place for them to live or get any kind of home care at this time.
“I’m really kind of shocked at it,” says Kelly’s cousin from his home in Halifax.
Gary MacLeod is also the founder of a group called A.C.E. – Advocates for the Care of the Elderly.
He says the idea that any long-term care resident with COVID-19 would not automatically be taken to the hospital is unacceptable.
“Who’s to say who is going to survive and who’s not?” MacLeod asks. “There’s a 102-year-old woman who survived this thing. I just believe everybody should be treated the same.”
No one from Northwood would do an interview with CTV News. Instead, the facility sent a statement, writing in part:
"We have created a treatment plan so we will be ready in the event one of our residents tests positive for covid-19 … following the principles of care provided by the Nova Scotia Health Authority and public health officials."
CTV News asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority about Northwood’s notification and whether that reflects a provincial policy.
NSHA spokesperson Lauren MacDougall replied in an email that “the actions taken for Long Term Care residents with COVID-19 would depend on an individual’s care plan, so each situation would be handled on a case-by-case basis.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil also addressed the issue during the government’s daily coronavirus update, saying the Nova Scotia Health Authority would work with any family members who felt they wanted to take their loved ones out of long-term care while the pandemic is ongoing.
Normally, if a resident leaves his or her nursing home bed for more than 30 days, that bed is given to someone else.
McNeil said the province would work to transition a resident back into their facility, but he discouraged families from taking that step.
“I strongly want to emphasize, the best place for your loved one is in the healthcare facility that is providing the care,” he said.
Back in Yellowknife, Kate Kelly is weighing her options.
“I would like to go to Halifax and get him out of there,” she says. “And get him into an apartment where I could make sure that he was safe.”
For his part, Gary MacLeod says the challenges being faced by many long-term care homes across the country in dealing with COVID-19 stem from years of under-resourcing and under-funding.
“The health of our healthcare is reflected upon how we treat our most vulnerable,” he says. “We’ve haven’t treated our most vulnerable very well.”