Families of care home residents who died of COVID-19 call for creation of seniors advocate
WINNIPEG -- June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and families that were impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak at Maples Personal Care Home are using it as an opportunity to call on the province for additional resources for seniors.
Eddie Calisto-Tavares is part of Families Voices, a seniors advocacy group that came together in the wake of the outbreak. Her father was a resident at Maples Personal Care Home for a little over a year before he died due to COVID-19.
She and her brothers were able to be by his side when he passed.
"He was one of the lucky ones," said Calisto-Tavares about her father's final days. "Because the voices that still haunt me to this day are those that had no one there."
A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Maples PCH in Winnipeg from October 20, 2020, to January 12, 2021.
In that time, 74 staff and 156 residents tested positive for the virus, and 56 deaths were linked to the outbreak.
"(Families Voices) have been working very hard behind the scenes to get a seniors advocate for Manitoba," said Calisto-Tavares.
"A place where people can go and have their loved ones' voices heard."
Lisa Prost's father was also a resident at Maples Personal Care Home for six years before passing away in January.
She said when she arrived for their regular visit, she found him alone in his room foaming at the mouth. He died in hospital the next morning.
"So this senior advocate, it would be adequately funded, it would have that investigating power to come in and seek out what's going on – these elders need that protection," said Prost.
CanAge, Canada's national seniors' advocacy organization, released Voices of Canada's Seniors: A Roadmap to an age-inclusive Canada in August of 2020.
It gave 135 recommendations to improve senior care in Canada, and number two was a seniors advocate for every province.
Laura Tamblyn-Watts, CEO of CanAge, said B.C., New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only provinces with advocates.
"In the jurisdictions that have had a seniors advocate during COVID-19, deaths were significantly reduced, and their recommendations made a real difference," said Tamblyn-Watts. "We know how important it is to have that office independent of government, so it doesn't rise and fall with the political terms of the day."
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the acting Minister of Health and Senior Care said:
"We know that there are a variety of models across the country with respect to seniors advocates. Currently, our Ombudsman performs many of the same functions that an advocate does. Our government has committed to the development of an integrated Seniors Strategy, a process which will include opportunities for public engagement and feedback. The concept of a seniors advocate is not under active consideration at this time, but is an idea that can be explored within our Seniors Strategy."
Calisto-Tavares believes a senior advocate in Manitoba would have prevented many of the deaths that took place during COVID-19.
"Families would have had a place to go to be heard, and so many of our seniors would have not died neglected and alone," she said.