Protesters urgently call for military support as Toronto long-term care home grapples with deadly outbreak
TORONTO -- For the second time in days, families and advocates protested outside the Tendercare Living Centre in Scarborough demanding the province provide more staffing support as the home continues to grapple with a COVID-19 outbreak.
"We needed them here much before now and for some it's unfortunately too late, but there are still others in there that are fighting for their lives,” said Jessica Wong who learned on Christmas Eve that her 82 year-old grandmother, Jean Wan Cheung, tested positive for the virus.
“The concern is more of us going to lose loved ones.”
Concern and frustration is mounting as 48 residents have now died from the virus according to North York General Hospital. There are also 101 active resident cases and 53 staff cases.
Nearly 60 people protested outside the home on Tuesday afternoon, many holding signs that read “save our seniors.” Among them was Doris Wai, who said her 98-year-old grandmother, Wai Lo Lin, passed away on Dec. 19 from the virus, just eight days after testing positive. The family says she never showed symptoms of the virus.
“The way the virus spread in the home there is obliviously a lack of training on how to handle an outbreak,” said Wai, who believes her grandmother’s death and others could have been prevented.
North York General hospital has been providing clinical support to the facility since last week and has since temporarily taken over management of the home.
While families and advocates are happy for the hospital’s support, calls for further assistance from the Canadian military or the Canadian Red Cross grew louder at Tuesday’s protest.
“They are so short staffed that they are working doubles and these healthcare workers cannot sustain that and the Ford government needs to stop waiting and bring in the help they need in here,” said Ken Evett with SEIU Healthcare which represents more 200 staff at Tendercare.
Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, who is an associate professor at Ontario Tech University and long-term care researcher, called the outbreak a humanitarian crisis.
“We need more oversight, we need more staff, we need a targeted hiring blitz,” said Stamatopoulos, who has been vocal about the issue and is calling on the Ford government to request assisting from the Canadian military and the Canadian Red Cross.
However, Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care said on Tuesday that staffing has stabilized at the home.
“It has sufficient numbers of personal support workers, it's physician supply is strong – we do have an outreach for nurses and North York General hospital is doing that on an ongoing basis,” Dr. Merrilee Fullerton said in an interview with CP24.
North York General issued a statement Tuesday, saying that nursing levels have improved significantly due to recruitment efforts and staff returning to work.
“These extra nurses are providing enhanced care to both residents with COVID-19 and those who tested negative, many of whom have complex health care needs. Our critical task is to sustain these levels over the coming weeks until such time as a home stabilizes,” the statement read.
The hospital is reporting 20 resolved cases among residents and 38 resolved staff cases, but with the death toll climbing, families are terrified for their loved ones and fear the worse if further action isn’t taken.
“Right now it feels like everything is reactive and not proactive,” said Wong. “I don't want my grandmother to be next.”