'We have to rebuild': Advocates hope to see change for older Canadians, long-term care homes after pandemic
HALIFAX -- Flags were flying at half-staff Thursday in Fredericton, as Canadians from coast-to-coast mark a national day of observance to commemorate those who have died from COVID-19, exactly one year after the virus was declared a pandemic.
The past year has been -- and continues to be -- challenging for Maritimers especially those in long-term care and their families.
"We just had a recent outbreak in Edmundston and that just put the fear of God into a lot of people," said Cecile Cassista, Executive Director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights in Riverview, N.B.
"People are fearful of going out," Cassista said. "We are so disconnected because we can't get out, we can't socialize."
In New Brunswick, 21 of the COVID-related deaths to date have been at long-term care homes in the province.
In Nova Scotia, COVID cases were confirmed at several long-term care homes over the last year but Northwood became the epicenter of the virus during the first wave.
More than 50 residents at the Halifax campus passed away from COVID, including Darlene Metzler's father, Gerald Jackson.
"It was difficult because there was so much unknown at the time you know," said Metzler. "Not being able to see him and not being able to be there with him and knowing that we weren't the only ones, there were many other families that were going through the same scenario was very hard."
The CEO of Northwood was not available for an interview, but in a statement said in part: "This has been the most challenging year in Northwood's history. The COVID-19 outbreak was extremely hard on our Residents, Families and staff."
Janet Simm went on to say that "we as a healthcare organization have learned a lot from the COVID-19 outbreak at our Halifax Campus" and that vaccination clinics for residents and their designated caregivers are almost complete.
For advocates, the pandemic has highlighted many of the issues older Canadians and those in long-term care have been facing for years.
"The way that we treat our older citizens just is not correct," said Bill VanGorder, with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons or CARP. "We've got to pay more attention, we have to have more care, we have to put more priority on them. We're still treating many of our older citizens the same way they were treated a hundred years ago."
Advocates hope that some change will come out of the lessons learned from the pandemic.
"We've got huge warehouses where we warehouse our seniors and we need to be looking at smaller complexes where they have individual rooms," said Cassista.
"We have to rebuild long-term institutional care, and home and community care, rebuild it all over again right from the ground up," added VanGorder.