When Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, said that Monday almost half of deaths due to COVID-19 in this country occurred in senior facilities, it should not be surprising. There are two reasons for that.
The first is that the same tragedy occurred in many Western countries affected by this disease.
Preliminary data collected by the London School of Economics suggest between 42 and 57 percent deaths in France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Ireland occur in long-term care homes and other residences for elderly residents.
In Spain, the stories of parents who were left dead in their beds have scared the people. The same thing is happening now in Canada, in a nursing home in the suburbs of Montreal where 31 people died, at least five of them from COVID-19. Inspectors who visited Résidence Herron last week found residents who did not eat and not dry lay in dirty diapers after overworked and under-protected care workers appeared to have left their jobs, fearing infection.
Senior facilities in each province were badly hit. Houses in Ontario have witnessed at least 182 deaths. In Alberta and British Columbia, most COVID-19 deaths originate from long-term care homes.
Another reason it is not surprising that senior residences have been the reason for murder is that they are the perfect target for a novel coronavirus.
These germs thrive in crowded spaces. In Newfoundland, it is believed that one person infected 143 people in a funeral home. At least three died.
The Elderly Facility is a gift for communicable diseases, with residents sharing a common area and sometimes even bedrooms. They are also filled with people who are burdened with basic health problems that can increase the risk of death from seasonal flu, especially from COVID-19.
Since this danger is known, why are senior facilities not better equipped for a pandemic?
The answer seems to be that the lessons learned from the SARS epidemic that struck Canada in 2004 have not been applied equally to the thousands of public and private nursing homes in every part of the country, from cities to towns.
If it is not blocked, the virus can turn a hospital into an infection zone, as SARS did in Toronto. But that hasn’t happened, because doctors, nurses and other hospital workers are ready now, with better training and updated protocols.
In addition, many limited tests for the corona virus that have taken place in Canada, and especially in Ontario, have gone to hospital staff and very sick patients. Plus, the majority of the country’s inadequate supply of personal protective equipment, such as respirator masks, has been prioritized for hospitals (and even those with difficulties).
The lack of PPE and virus tests nationally causes gaps experienced by seniors in long-term care homes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Monday he wanted all residents and staff at senior facilities to be tested for the corona virus, but that was easier said than done, given the severe shortage of testing in the province.
In addition, it has long been known that senior facilities everywhere have chronic staff shortages due to low wages and difficult working conditions, a fact recognized by Quebec Prime Minister François Legault this week. Some caregivers work in many homes, increasing the risk of cross infection. SM ordered to end it last week. Ontario finally did it on Tuesday.
It is also clear that the government is not doing consistent work to inspect and regulate senior facilities, a fact made clear by the horror program in Quebec.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a calculation for Canada and the handling of an aging population.
Governments must ask themselves why they allow seniors to be transported in a system with so many known vulnerabilities. Study after study has revealed staffing problems and lack of training, and there have been a number of notable tragedies in recent years, including a fire at a house in Vertle Verte, Que., Which killed 32 people in 2014.
Above all, governments need to rethink their priorities. If COVID-19 has shown us something, anything done to protect hospitals during a pandemic must also be done for elderly facilities, stat.