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Opinion: These COVID-19 care home deaths are a Coquitlam tragedy

Why are our care homes being hit so hard? That’s a question that’s being asked in provinces across Canada — but especially here in Coquitlam where a single care home has 20 COVID-19 related deaths
Lakeshore pickup
A worker from the BC Centre for Disease Control picks up test samples at Lakeshore Care Centre in Coquitlam, B.C., site of 20 deaths and 75 COVID-19-positive tests since an outbreak was declared Dec. 4.

Twenty seniors have died at a Coquitlam care home with complications related to COVID-19 and I’m losing sleep over it.

I know the staff at The Lakeshore Care Centre have done their best to keep COVID-19 at bay but it’s a crafty contagion that exploits with seeming ease even the strictest of protocols.

My mother passed away in hospital in January, 2019 after a three month stay at a small long term care facility in Burnaby of similar vintage and size to Lakeshore, and so I know what these places are like.

People care.

In fact, I still have video of my mom singing White Christmas along with the piano player and other staff and residents who stopped by to share in a little holiday cheer at the care home where she lived before she died.

So while my mom didn’t have to be subjected to the fears, restrictions and constraints of COVID-19 and died in hospital not in her care home bed, I share some of the sadness and helpless horror care home staff and families must feel when coronavirus sneaks into a place where seniors come to live out their last days.

Well, to put it more bluntly, I’m angry as well as afraid.

I’m angry that despite efforts to restrict visitors, anti-virus controls and measures to ensure staff work at one place, COVID-19 gets into these facilities anyway.

I don’t know why it happens. Dr. Bonnie Henry has told us COVID-19 in care homes is result of coronavirus circulating in the community.

But there must be more to it than that. As a reporter, and a community member I want more detail, more explanation and a chain of events, as well as what makes a difference and what makes things worse.

Is it resident age, health issues, staffing constraints? I’m afraid there will be more deaths over the coming weeks. This must be a wake-up call that forces a closer look at B.C. care homes over the coming weeks and months once vaccines are provided and the risk has abated.

Family members must feel helpless when their loved-one is virtually locked inside a care home where there is a coronavirus outbreak. Certainly B.C.'s senior advocate knows of their fears when she wrote her recent report on the impact of COVID-19 and family visitation.

Are the visitor's rules all for naught?

Here’s the grim toll in the Tri-Cities of late:

• A double outbreak at the Hawthorne Seniors Care Community — one in the facility’s long-term care facility and another in its assisted living unit — claimed the lives of four residents out of a total of 44 staff and residents who tested positive for COVID-19.

•At Belvedere Care Centre, six residents have died in an outbreak. Before it was declared over, the coronavirus infected at least 35 residents and 17 staff members at the long-term care facility. 

• At Nicola Lodge, where an outbreak is ongoing, there have been 30 patient and 18 staff cases and one death at the facility.

• Currently, at The Madison Care Centre, located close by Lakeshore, at least seven residents and one staff member has COVID-19.

• At the Lakeshore Care Centre, 20 residents have died in a month since the outbreak started, with 75 people, residents and staff, having caught the disease. The care home only has 56 beds, so that's a heavy toll.

• Dufferin Care Centre in Coquitlam suffered nearly two dozen cases in the spring, including four deaths, and Shaughnessy Care Centre in Port Coquitlam declared its outbreak over in April, but not before the novel coronavirus took one resident’s life and infected three others.

• An outbreak was also declared Oct. 28 when one resident tested positive at the Mayfair Terrace Retirement Residence in Port Coquitlam. The Port Coquitlam facility was the first to have a COVID-19 outbreak declared since the virus was driven out of Tri-City seniors homes in June.

Why are our care homes being hit so hard? That’s a question that’s being asked in provinces across Canada and while bringing in the military to fight off the disease doesn’t seem to be necessary or in the cards, an investigation is required to give families some assurance that their sacrifices were not in vain.

From my own experience with care homes, I know the staff care and must feel helpless facing this COVID-19 challenge. 

My heart goes out to the Lakeshore residents, their family and the staff who have tried to fight off the virus and I hope the outbreak can be declared over soon.