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Vaccine arrival at Tendercare LC too little, too late for some families

Last Updated Jan 10, 2021 at 8:25 pm EST

More than 200 staff and residents at Tendercare Living Centre were vaccinated on Sunday, bringing relief to the east-end long-term care home that has battled one of the deadliest outbreaks in the province.

In a statement, North York General Hospital – which has taken over administration of the facility – says 102 residents and 113 staff received their first doses.

The hospital says no new cases of COVID-19 have been reported among staff or residents and that for the third day in a row, no new deaths have been reported.

“This is an encouraging sign that the enhanced clinical care and infection prevention and control measures now in place continue to improve the situation as we move forward with resolving the outbreak and stabilizing the long-term care home,” said the hospital, which also noted that 80 staff cases have been resolved and 43 have returned to work.

While the arrival of the vaccine may have been a welcome sight for some, for family members who have lost loved ones to the virus it has come too little too late.

Auston Chhor’s 86-year-old grandmother, who came to Canada from a small village in China many years ago, died from COVID-19 on Jan. 5, just five days before the vaccine was available at Tendercare. She is one of 73 residents who have so far passed away during the pandemic. Chhor says by the end, even her basic needs weren’t being met.

“My grandma would call us and say I’m still in my chair and it’s 9 p.m. and no one has helped me get into my bed,” explained Chhor, who added that his grandmother’s condition began to deteriorate as the infection began to spread through the staff at the home.

“Basic needs weren’t being taken care of. She would have to call us to tell us to call somebody to help her go to the washroom and there was a week in December where no one was available to pick up the phone so no one could go and charge my grandmother’s cell phone and so we just didn’t hear from her for a whole week.”

Jessica Wong says when her family first heard about the outbreak, they tried to take her 82-year-old grandmother out of Tendercare. But when they finally got approval to remove her, it was too late as her grandmother had tested positive for the virus.

“There has been a huge lack of communication at Tendercare from the beginning of this outbreak,” said Wong. “You look at things now and they are so-called ‘improving’ – less people are being infected because there’s no one else to be infected and so many people have passed away already. You look at it now and its mismanaged and it all could have been prevented but it wasn’t.”

Wong says while her grandmother’s condition is slowly improving, the family is still worried for her safety.

“The worry is what if she gets re-infected and does she get a vaccine and if she gets a vaccine, how is she going to react to it. Now that North York General Hospital is only in management for 90 days, what happens after that? Are we being proactive from something like this happening again. All the families are feeling very helpless.”

Chhor says while it’s too late for the majority of families who had relatives at the home, he would like to see the province take accountability and responsibility for the tragedy.

“Nothing can be done now that can reverse this. …The lack of accountability and coming forward while the crisis was occurring, because right now the crisis is over in that home. They should have stepped up and said something well before it started.”

NDP MPP Doly Begum, whose riding is home to Tendercare, says the pandemic has shone a harsh light on a number of problems facing long-term care and vulnerable communities.

“I think all homes should have gotten (government) support but the fact that Scarborough and communities like ours that are racialized, that have low income families, get left behind all the time says a lot about the way we have our government prioritizing our communities,” Said Begum. “And the other factor, which I think is important, is ageism as well. The fact that we haven’t looked into long-term care for so many years – in fact two decades, really – governments have really failed to look into what seniors, what elders and what vulnerable communities really need.”

Begum also called on the province to ramp up its efforts to get vaccines into homes and facilities that are in crisis.

“We need to have a better plan in terms of rolling out these vaccines as soon as possible. The fact that we had about 100,000 vaccines sitting around in freezers and the premier is now, slowly, dragging his feet and getting these vaccines into the arms of staff and residents is problematic and we should have had this happening days and days ago.”

The office of the Minister of Long Term Care tells CityNews all long-term care residents and workers in hotspots will be vaccinated by Jan. 21.

According to the provincial website, there are currently 245 long-term care homes dealing with an outbreak. To date, 2,967 residents have lost their lives to COVID-19.