Twelve weeks have passed since we went into lockdown, work-from-home or some form of COVID-19 hibernation. With the Ontario government extending its state of emergency, our fourth month of living in suspended animation has commenced.
As inconvenient and infuriating as this for most of us, it has become a state of increasingly inhumane isolation for close to a million Canadian seniors (65 and over) living in long-term care (LTC) or independent living facilities.
Predictably, politicians have moved on from their “get angry for the cameras moment” outrage over conditions in some hard-hit facilities to other issues. More shockingly, I have observed an indifference to the plight of seniors based on repeated comments in newspapers and hundreds of dismissive (even if unintended) postings on social media.
COVID-19 has put the living environment and ecosystem of haphazard employment and safety standards across long-term care and seniors’ living facilities into sharp, and disturbing focus. To be fair, I have first-hand experience with a local private facility that has done amazing work in co-horting staff and residents, fully equipping staff with PPE, enacting swift and strict infection control protocols, and doing their best to communicate consistently, and bluntly when needed, with family members.
Provincial inquiries will not be enough. A national Royal Commission (which cannot be stopped by an election and has the power to subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify) into Canada’s total COVID response – with seniors living and support issues including wages, governance and care protocols, as a key line of inquiry – is necessary.
As for the federal government, a paltry, one-time $500 (maximum) top-up for OAS and GIS recipients in early July is at best disrespectful and will not compensate for extra costs incurred for utilities usage and other expenses incurred over the past three months.
A generation of Canadian seniors, mostly widows are 75 and over, continue to receive less than $2,000/month in combined OAS, GIS and CPP-survivor benefit payments. This poverty is shameful in the extreme and a festering wound on our so-called compassionate Canada. Successive federal governments over three decades have wilfully ignored this destructive and discriminatory situation.
Turning to the issue of indifference, yes, it’s true that 94% of all COVID-19 fatalities have occurred in those 65 and older. But when I see folks arguing and posting for a faster re-opening/relaxing of lockdown restrictions (and I so feel and empathize with this frustration) with the caveat of “but protect our seniors” it gets my spidey-senses tingling. In asking folks what this protection should entail their common answer has been, well “keep them isolated and safe.”
So we should allow anyone who has lived for less than seven decades to merrily go about their business with the appropriate precautions (masks, distancing, etc) based on their risk tolerance but deny this same mobility and human contact to at least 1 million seniors in various facilities and potentially up to 6 million Canadians nationwide? Yes this is an extreme conclusion, but, this is where we have regrettably arrived by honestly and lovingly trying to “protect” them.
For 12 weeks, Ontario seniors in LTC and other residential facilities have been on lockdown due to actual outbreaks or out of an abundance of caution. Meals served in rooms, no trips outside even for 15-minutes (even with PPE and distancing) of fresh air, no family or outside caregiver contact/interaction for at least two months and more in some facilities.
If they need to go out to their doctor today or this week, even if fully masked and transported in a sterile environment, upon return to their residence, it’s go to your room or unit and self-isolate for 14 days! Public health authorities and seniors (LTC, etc.) facility managers must do better. Our loved ones need footcare, interaction with designated and pre-screened loved ones for feeding, dressing, bathing, a haircut, and the list goes on.
In our zeal to save our most vulnerable seniors lives from COVID-19 we are depriving them of the dignity of life in other ways, irreparably damaging their mental health and slowly killing them with public-health sanctioned and government supported isolation and neglect. If we treated prisoners in this manner, it would be equated with torture. This is not my Canada, this cannot continue.