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Swift Current resident speaks about stress of having a loved one in long-term care during pandemic

Posted on 15 January 2021 by Matthew Liebenberg

For family members of long-term care residents, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of concern about the safety and well-being of their loved ones.

Swift Current resident George Tsougrianis has spoken to the <em>Prairie Post</em> about the experience of going through the pandemic while his mother lives at The Meadows long-term facility and he is also expressing some concerns about the COVID-19 assessment protocols for healthcare workers.

“I know these are probably questions that I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other people have out there as well,” he said.

His mother, 90-year-old Kay Tsougrianis, has been a long-term care resident since June 2018. He emphasized the family has been pleased with the care provided to her at The Meadows.

“We are really lucky here in Swift Current to have a facility like The Meadows,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place and I’m very grateful that my mom has a place like that where she can be comfortable and taken care of.”

He mentioned that relatives from much larger cities such as Regina, Calgary and Edmonton have been surprised by this modern long-term care facility in Swift Current.

“They’re just totally blown away,” he said. “So that really reinforces it in my mind too of how lucky we really are to have this facility, and certainly a part of that is the care staff. I know there’s several ladies there that treat my mom like their mom. So that makes me feel good in terms of her level of care and the facility is good. It’s just really this outstanding thing that I think are we leaving a door open here for these most vulnerable people that we all keep talking about in our society. Are we doing everything that we should be doing to protect them?”

His concerns about the COVID-19 assessment protocols for healthcare workers have been growing since the surge in infections and new cases in Saskatchewan started in the fall, which have resulted in outbreaks in a number of long-term care facilities in the province.

The growing number of COVID-19 cases in the province resulted in the suspension of visits to all long-term care facilities and personal care homes on Nov. 19. As a result, family presence is only allowed for compassionate reasons.

“So when the lockdown came around this last time, I had these questions in my mind, relating it to all the different protocols that we’re all supposed to follow in terms of wearing masks and washing hands,” he said. “At the same time nobody really knows who’s got it, who’s asymptomatic and so on, and I started thinking about that as well for the long-term care facility.”

After looking at the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s online information for facility screening, he realized the staff at The Meadows and other long-term care facilities follow the same assessment protocols as healthcare workers in other facilities such as hospitals. They are required to do a self-assessment to evaluate their fitness to work before the start of their shift. They must then continue to actively self-monitor for any symptoms and they need to complete twice daily temperature logs.

He cannot help but wonder if these measures are sufficient to prevent staff from entering the facility when they might be infected, but not yet showing symptoms.

“I know realistically that having a daily test of all the care workers that go into The Meadows every day is probably unrealistic, but I don’t think a self-assessment as the only tool to protect is enough,” he said. “So where’s the happy medium? For example, could they test once a week? That’s better than what it is now.”

He noted that these assessment measures for staff are basically the same as those for family visitors, namely screening, temperature check, hand hygiene, and wearing a mask.

“If a person is asymptomatic and they’re working in long-term care and if they’re basically just doing that same kind of self-assessment, how many people walking around there are actually asymptomatic that are going in there every day and potentially exposing not just my mother but who knows who else,” he asked. “I just don’t think the self-assessment is the only tool we should be using. I think we should be looking at other options. There are these rapid tests, and I know there’s a lot of controversy around how accurate they are, but we’re nine months into this. Can we not have some other way of doing this than just that?”

It was a difficult time for his mother and the family when a decision was made in 2018 for her to move to The Meadows, because she still wanted to live in her own home.

“She lived at home as long as she could, but the reality is her mobility,” he said. “Her legs just got to the point where she hasn’t walked now for probably a good year and a half. She has no real mobility now. She is in one of those Broda chairs and for her that is really her only option to be in a facility like that with things like the lifts and the Broda chairs.”

George feels his mother has adapted well to living in a long-term care facility, partly because the is a very social person.

“She loves to be around people,” he said. “She actually really enjoys the younger staff. She gets along with them really well and she jokes with them. … I think that’s why she’s done as well as she has, because there’s always people around. She has really benefitted from that personal interaction that she’s getting with the staff and with other residents.”

She was also still able to enjoy regular visits with family members after moving to The Meadows, which has been very important to her. There would often be five or six people in her room, because her closest relatives in Swift Current would visit regularly. Her room could become a busy place when family members from further afield pay her a visit during special family occasions, and there have been up to 20 people with her during some visits.

“She’s generally just a happy person,” he said. “She likes to joke and she likes to sing, and those moments of family are extremely arousing for her. She just comes alive in those moments. She’ll talk about the past, she’ll have a good story.”

The various visitor restrictions in The Meadows since the start of the pandemic have therefore been a real challenge for her, and he is worried that she might be struggling with loneliness.

“It’s a testament in my mind to how important that human connection is, because I can see that with my mother when I go in there and no one has really seen her,” he said. “By the time I leave, I can see that interaction has really brought her up.”

He has been trying to visit as frequently as possible within the limitations of the pandemic regulations, but he could not do that any more since Nov. 19. He has just seen her once in person since then, and that was only because he had to accompany her during a dental visit shortly before Christmas.

He is thankful to The Meadows staff, who have been trying to find ways to help family members to remain in touch with their loved ones through the use of technology. George and his brother, who lives in Calgary, are able to talk to her through their iPhones.

“They have an iPad and we just face time,” he said. “They actually have scheduled times that they do with a number of different residents, and I’m thankful for that, because it gives me an opportunity to not only talk to her, but to actually see her. In the summer it was great, because my mom has always been an avid gardener. So I would go out to the garden and I would show her the plants and how things were doing, and we actually would have great conversations around that.”

The pandemic situation and media reports about outbreaks and fatalities in long-term care facilities across Canada is naturally a cause of concern for him and other family members, and they are left with a sense of helplessness.

“You start thinking crazy thoughts, sort of second-guessing yourself,” he said. “Did I do the right thing in having her there, because if I had her at home I could at least look after her, but I know well there’s no way we can do that. … But you know how it is. It’s your parent and it’s a feeling of utter helplessness, and you just hope that they’re doing what they need to do.”

The <em>Prairie Post</em> has requested a response from the Saskatchewan Health Authority with regard to the COVID-19 assessment protocols for long-term care staff, but a response has not been received by press time. Their response will be published in the next edition of the <em>Prairie Post</em>.

<p>Kay Tsougrianis enjoys a visit with family through the fence at The Meadows during her 90th birthday in May 2020.</p>

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