A woman whose elderly father lives at Fairfield Park nursing home in Wallaceburg is calling for changes to the home's staffing levels, which she says are not sufficient.
Lucinda Allaer shared her experience during a Zoom meeting hosted by Chatham-Kent's branch of the Ontario Health Coalition on Monday and said not only is Fairfield Park short-staffed with exhausted workers, but staff at the nursing home are also not properly trained to handle the pandemic. She wants the Ford government to give long-term care and nursing homes what they need to do the job properly, including better pay.
Allaer said she doesn't fault the staff at Fairfield saying they're doing their best to feed, wash, and change their residents, but added there have been many times when residents cry out for help and either don't get it or wait too long because of a lack of support by the province.
"Forty-five minutes for him to have a bowel movement, that's not okay," said Allaer. "He just had to wait and he's on laxatives. I've seen him cry excessively."
Allaer called the situation horrifying. She said her 88-year-old father, who has anxiety, went into Fairfield Park during the pandemic and was put into a room to quarantine for 14 days with no phone and no television. She recognizes that staff are working hard, sometimes feeding two people at a time with a third one waiting, but said it's unacceptable that many of the part-time employees don't have benefits, and are putting their emotional health at risk because they can't spend enough time caring for their residents.
Allaer said it's heartbreaking that her father has asked her for a pill to help him die because he doesn't want her to leave him at the home.
"If that's not enough for the political rhetoric to stop then there's a real problem that we have," she said. "It's not that much money to put full-time people into nursing homes. Nursing home residents are not stupid, they're at the end of their life. They need us to care."
The Administrator of Fairfield Park, Tracey Maxim, told Blackburn News the pandemic has been a very difficult time for her residents, staff, and families.
"We have a dedicated and caring team that is doing everything possible to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents, and to keep them connected to their families. We encourage families to call myself or our Director of Care to discuss any concerns," said Maxim. "Like many other long-term care homes, we have experienced staffing shortages during the pandemic and have a back-up plan for times when we are unexpectedly short staffed to ensure our residents receive the care they need. There are long-standing and systemic issues that have affected staffing in long-term care."
The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA) said it has redeployed staff to local long-term care homes over the last several months to help when their staffing levels reach a critical point. CKHA Communications Director, Fannie Vavoulis, said hospital staff was redeployed to Fairfield Park in wave 1 of the pandemic but currently the home doesn't have any CKHA staff helping.
"Once redeployed, they are no longer working at our site during that time. They only work at the LTC home. Once the redeployment is over, they do quarantine and get swabbed and come back to CKHA. They do not work at both sites at the same time," said Vavoulis.
The co-chair of the Health Coalition in CK, Shirley Roebuck, is calling long-term care staffing a crisis and is again demanding an end to for-profit homes. Roebuck is also calling on the private homes to make their finances public but so far, she said the province hasn't budged.
Some experts have said ending for-profit would only magnify the problem, with fewer homes and longer waiting lists. Local MPP Rick Nicholls said the province keeps funding long-term care but he's not sure the money goes to where it is intended.
Chatham-Kent Public Health has declared six outbreaks at four local long-term care facilities over the last six weeks. The first local long-term care outbreak was declared December 1, 2020.
The Ontario government has launched an independent commission to investigate the spread of the virus within long-term care homes, how residents, staff and families were impacted, and the adequacy of measures taken by the province and other parties to prevent, isolate, and contain the spread.
The Commission will provide the government with guidance on how to better protect long-term care residents and staff from any outbreaks by April 30, 2021, when it's expected it will deliver its final report. The Commission will continue to accept submissions from members of the public and stakeholder organizations until January 31, 2021.