Sometimes good intentions end up harming the people we most want to help. The whole point of the lockdown measures was to save vulnerable, elderly people in nursing homes from COVID-19. We now know that this virus poses very little threat to healthy adults, and no threat to children and youth, but it has claimed many lives in long-term care facilities.
To protect seniors in these facilities, lockdown measures prohibited the residents from receiving visits from their own sons, daughters, and grandchildren. While this might seem wise, family members often serve as essential caregivers, compensating for the lack of adequate care in understaffed facilities.
No visits from family members means confinement to one’s room, and nobody taking a personal interest in the individual senior’s welfare. Forced isolation, which is destructive even for healthy people, also means a total lack of accountability: nobody is there to notice, or take action on, signs of neglect or abuse.
Some long-term care residents have been confined to their rooms for over 80 consecutive days, suffering loneliness, depression, anxiety, neglect, lack of exposure to the outdoors and physical exercise, lack of loving interaction with family, and loss of dignity. They are suffering a profound and ongoing violation of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person as protected by section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Our office receives accounts daily from family members in Ontario who paint a horrific picture of how dire the situation is, and how much worse it will get if family members are not immediately permitted to resume visiting and caring for their elderly loved ones.
Margaret in London describes the suffering both she and her mother have experienced from the months-long isolation: “My mom is calling every day asking why I don’t want to visit her anymore. Her dementia and anxiety has worsened so badly they have had to increase her medication. She does not know what is going on, why she can’t leave, and why I cannot come and see her. She is calling many times a day asking why I don’t want to visit her anymore …. ‘We used to be so close. What happened?’ My mom doesn’t understand what is going on and it’s cruel. It is as hard on me as it is on her.”
Jane, whose husband is in a facility in a small town with very few COVID-19 cases, writes: “The isolation is taking its toll on my husband. His condition is fragile. Every day there’s less engagement, fewer smiles and he’s sleeping more and more. Sometimes he can’t even wake up for me… and now… he’s having trouble taking a life-saving medication because he’s having trouble swallowing. My biggest fear is that he will die before this lockdown is lifted, he does not deserve this, I don’t deserve this. There needs to be a way to spend even one hour a week with him.”
Predictably, the lockdown’s prohibition on visits by family members means long-term care homes are largely devoid of meaningful supervision. Indifference and neglect—and in some cases, abuse— can now flourish without accountability. Elderly people are left in soiled beds or diapers while Health Minister Christine Elliott boasts about having “saved thousands of lives.” In Orchard Villa in Pickering, soldiers observed the choking death of one senior, who was lying down while being fed. Staff were unable to dislodge food or revive the resident. This was a lockdown death, not a COVID-19 death.
We have been inundated with similar stories from people across Ontario, who would gladly help their loved ones if they could, but doing so would violate lockdown Orders and regulations.
It is tragic and ironic that our laws and our health care system will facilitate assisted suicide, but not the choice to live in dignity and incur a risk of contracting COVID-19. Politicians have an obligation under the Charter to justify lockdown measures as doing more good than harm, when lockdowns inflict untold suffering and death on the very people they were meant to save.