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Residents share concerns, anxiety over loved ones in lockdown

March 26, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Ron Wallace, founder of The Auroran, celebrated his birthday this past Saturday.

A resident of Chartwell Aurora – formerly Resthaven – for the last five years, his birthday is normally an occasion of celebration and love.

This time around, however, it was a significantly quieter affair as Chartwell Aurora was, along with other nursing and retirement homes across the country, locked down to outside visitors due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Ron has been here five years this week and Saturday is his birthday – it makes me a little sad because sometimes I will go in and read him all the Facebook messages wishing him a Happy Birthday, and I won’t be able to do that for him,”  his wife, Patricia, told The Auroran on Thursday, noting that although her husband can’t communicate verbally, he is very aware of what is going on around him.

And that in itself is a concern, one shared by Patricia and countless other families in this same situation.

“I called specifically to ask, ‘Does he know what’s going on? Has anyone taken the time to go around to residents and say this is what is happening in the world?’ I don’t know that Ron could understand the severity of the situation, but he does understand. All of a sudden, his surroundings are changing as far as the people around him and I worried whether he was feeling abandoned. It’s a worry and it gets me right in the heart.

“The nurse in the unit told me that they had been making every effort [to do so] and apparently I wasn’t the only family member to ask that very question, to explain as much as they can to the residents who could understand what is going on in the world right now and why their family members aren’t coming – and why there are no other visitors or visiting volunteers, which is a big thing.”

It is hard, she says, but she is reassured that residents are safe and receiving good care.

This is a feeling shared by Aurora resident Peter Styrmo whose wife, Diane, has lived in a nursing home in Whitchurch-Stouffville since 2014.

Diane also has a limited ability to communicate, but Peter is there like clockwork every day as soon as programs end around 3.30 p.m. – or, at least he was until the lockdown.

“The girl I married disappeared about 10 years ago,” says Peter, noting the lockdown has left him with mixed feelings. “You don’t know whether you’re relieved, whether you’re feeling guilty about not being there, but the people who are there are very capable.

“I have been there every day for the last six years and I know them all. If there is anything amiss, they call right away. You can only do what you can do.”

Patricia says she shares the sentiment that there is some relief in the lockdown in that it has provided some clarity in emotions. She has wanted to go in to visit Ron but this desire has been tempered by the worry about bringing something into the residence.

“As soon as they say, ‘You can’t go,’ you think, ‘Okay, this is the best for them and it is a bit of a relief that way,” she says.

But, in addition to their worry about not being able to visit their spouses, both Peter and Patricia show their appreciation for the frontline workers providing care inside. Over the past five or six years, both agree that the support staff at their partners’ respective residences have become a second family and they remain very much in their thoughts at this difficult time.

“Care in nursing homes is never perfect, it is never going to be, but the way our health care funding is, which is darn good compared to a lot of others, is still not perfect,” says Patricia. “We have to have patience. The staff send me and all family members regular emails and updates. It is not daily, but they have more important things to do than keep us updated on a regular basis, so I knew…when they were restricting visitors, and then not even 24 hours later they locked down to visitors. That’s when it became even more concerning because it wasn’t just no visitors, it was also no volunteers and long-term care homes, like a lot of places, really depend on their volunteer population to pick up the slack for the non-medical, non-PSW things. That meant, to me, how is the staff doing? As Peter said, they are my second family in there and we are all part of the extended family in long-term care. You know them very well, you know their dogs, their children, and all of that, so when I spoke to them (on Wednesday) they are definitely overworked but doing their best with what they’ve got.

“We know we’re all remembering doctors and nurses and hospital staff. Don’t forget about the people who are the PSWs and the other workers in long term care because they kind of fly below the radar in all of this. Those people who are working double and triple shifts have families too. If one of those is your neighbour where you can throw something in the mail box of support and something like that, don’t forget them either.”

By Brock Weir



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