“We’re just really concerned. You just totally feel helpless, because what can we do?”Marilyn Biletski, whose 96-year-old mother is a resident at Fairview Brandon, Man
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Seniors have been at risk due to staffing shortages long before this pandemic hit. They cannot continue to ride a second wave of #COVID19AB without more oversight and accountability.
— Friends of Medicare (@FriendsMedicare) November 27, 2020
— Lori Sigurdson (@LoriSigurdson) November 27, 2020
The devastation in seniors homes during COVID-19 was the predictable result of decades of indifference and neglect. From Victorian poorhouses to sites of mass death—the shameful history of our long-term care system.
Cathy Parkes never intended to put her father, Paul Parkes, in a long-term-care home. The very notion of confinement ran contrary to Paul’s nature. He was a consummate outdoorsman—a fisherman and hunter who seemed to be on intimate terms with the troposphere. He could glance at the sky and spot the precise moment when the wispy cirrus clouds above him started to congeal, portending rain. During childhood, Cathy and her two brothers often went on camping trips with their father. “Once, in Killarney, we docked at an island with a mountain covered in blueberry bushes,” she recalls. “Dad said, ‘I’m not getting out of the canoe. A storm’s coming.’” The sun was beating down, and Paul’s prediction seemed outlandish. But he was right. “As soon as we reached the top of the mountain,” Cathy says, “a wicked storm broke out.” She and her brothers dashed to the base, where Paul was waiting in the canoe to ferry them back to the campsite.
When Cathy was a child, she couldn’t imagine that such a man would one-day find himself weakened, immobile, and confined to a tiny room. But in 2016, at age 82, Paul fell while gardening and was unable to get up. His wife found him an hour later keeled over by a flower bed in their Oshawa backyard. He was later diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition whereby fluid builds up beneath the skull, damaging the brain and causing mobility issues, memory loss, and urinary incontinence. Paul’s wife was experiencing cognitive decline and could offer only limited support. In 2018, Paul moved to Pickering, down the street from his daughter. For eighteen months, she was his primary caregiver. “Dad was losing his mobility,” Cathy says. “And I was hurting myself trying to lift him.” As his condition worsened, she forced herself to confront a painful fact: Paul needed more help than she could give.
An early draft of a recent study has shown that up to 10,000 more people may have died in care homes from COVID-19 than previously estimated.
The study, carried out by health economists and data scientists at the University of Manchester, is the first independent analysis of the daily death data sent to the Care Quality Commission in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic by 13,630 care homes.
The study revealed that excess deaths were mainly in larger care homes that provide services to older people and those living with dementia, noting they were affiliated to a branded chain of providers where staff may be more likely to work in more than one place.
Comparing data between January 2017 to August 2020 with data from April to August 2020 to calculate excess deaths in care homes during the pandemic, the study highlighted no significant differences between profit and non-profit care homes, and estimated that 29,400 more care home residents, directly and indirectly attributable to COVID-19, died during the first 23 weeks of the pandemic than expected from historical trends. This is an equivalent to 6.5% of all care home beds available in England.
The researchers say that only 65% of the excess deaths were officially reported to be directly attributable to COVID-19, meaning 35%, equating to 10,000 people, died in those care homes and were flagged as unrelated to COVID-19.
Dr Marcello Morciano, a Senior Lecturer in Health Policy and economics at the University of Manchester, said: “Thousands of people have died from COVID-19, but because many weren’t tested, some death certificates failed to attribute cause of death to the virus either directly or indirectly, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. This study shows that in care homes, mortality figures attributable in some way to COVID-19 have been hugely underestimated: the figure could be as high as 10,000 people.
“But it also tells us where many of the people who died in excess to what expected based on historical trends were living in care homes that experienced COVID-19-related fatalities and that has important policy implications in terms of prioritising resources in the future.”
CAREWATCH is Inspired by Carol Wodak founding member of CITIZEN WATCH
BACKGROUNDER: CITIZEN WATCH was created as a public service for the people of Alberta. It was the work of an ever-widening network of individuals from across the province, including families and friends of long term care and assisted or supportive living residents and those requiring long term care supports in their own homes. CITIZEN WATCH WEBSITE