Family is everything to Mary Catherine MacDonald. The 68-year-old woman raised eight children and held two of her sons at the end of their lives, one died from cancer at five years, and another died of complications from cerebral palsy at 17 years. Now, MacDonald is unconscious in an intensive care unit, likely at the end of her life, without a single family member by her side.
MacDonald is in intensive care at Southlake Regional Health Centre (SRHC) in Newmarket, Ontario. Her daughter, Mary-Clare, who lives with and takes care of her, took her to hospital on March 10, after she had been feeling unwell for a week. MacDonald tested positive for COVID-19 while in the emergency department and was admitted to a medical ward later that day.
Before MacDonald was transferred to critical care and intubated, she began to suffer from confusion and agitation, and called out for her daughters and husband—but staff denied visitors and placed her in four-point restraints on her hospital bed, according to her family.
Mary-Clare and two of her sisters, Colette and Anne, said they have been pleading with hospital staff to see their mother, and to bring their father, who has Alzheimer’s, to see his wife. The family said they were not able to have a video call with MacDonald because of how delirious their mother was. By the time staff offered a video call, their mother was already unconscious. The sisters said they believe they could have calmed MacDonald and prevented the deterioration that led to her transfer to critical care.
A social worker told the family that they could only see their mother if death was imminent and the visit was approved by a manager, said Mary-Clare.
Southlake Regional Health Centre lists its visitor policy online. According to their website, they “offer virtual patient visits” and, starting “on March 7, 2022 [they] will be welcoming fully vaccinated visitors for patients in hospital three or more days.” The policy goes on to say that “COVID-19 suspect/positive patients will not be permitted visitors. Visiting will only be permitted through proactive consultation with hospital Infection Prevention and Control specialists and clinical teams.”
“I can handle death, and I can handle losing my mother. But not like this,” said Mary-Clare. “It’s cruel—essentially you have kidnapped my mother.”
On March 14, The Post Millennial contacted the unit where MacDonald is admitted and asked what the visitor policy was for her. The staff member who answered the phone seemed to believe the call was from one of MacDonald’s daughters. “[The nurse] spoke to you this morning… There’s still no visiting, because she’s COVID positive,” said the staff member.
MacDonald’s daughter Collette said that Ontario Public Health advised that their mother is no longer required to be in “quarantine” for COVID-19, but that the hospital administration will not consider this information when deciding if MacDonald can have her family at her side.
“When I’m hearing my mother is calling out my name and you won’t let me see her? What closure am I going to have from that?” said Mary-Clare.
The hospital posts daily COVID updates on their website. As of March 14, they report a total of 14 patients with COVID, three of whom are in critical care. They do not differentiate between patients admitted with, versus admitted for, the virus.
The Post Millennial reached out to the hospital for comment, to which they responded: "We cannot comment on any individual patient for privacy reasons, but we encourage those who have concerns about their care or the care of their loved one to bring this to the care team, the manager of the unit or to Patient Relations for follow up.
"At this time patients who have COVID-19 or are suspected to have COVID-19 are not permitted in-person visitors, to ensure the safety of other patients and the care team. Virtual visits are available, and we encourage family members to reach out to their loved one’s care team to coordinate," said Danae Theakston, the hospital's communications strategist.