Members of the Canadian military will be deployed to a Vaughan long-term care home that is struggling to contain a COVID-19 outbreak, the private company that owns the home says.
In a letter to families of residents on Saturday, Sienna Senior Living says the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will help in the “provision of care” at Woodbridge Vista Care Community, 5400 Steeles Ave W.
“This is good news for us, and will provide our organization with much-needed capacity during the time ahead,” Lois Cormack, president and CEO of Sienna Senior Living, said in the letter.
“I want to assure you that we will continue to work closely with all partners to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Our sole focus is on ensuring residents’ and our health-care teams’ safety and well-being during this unprecedented time.”
The Ontario long-term care ministry said in an email that CAF members were at the home, a 224-bed facility, on Sunday to do an assessment.
“We are grateful for CAF’s continued support and we will have more news to share about next steps in the coming days,” the ministry said in the email.
The CAF itself declined to say when exactly the military will begin work at the home.
Hospital tasked with managing home
On Thursday, the Ontario government said it has appointed William Osler Health System to manage Woodbridge Vista Care Community temporarily because the home has been unable to contain the spread of COVID-19. The health system serves Brampton, Etobicoke and nearby communities.
Cormack said the home welcomes the support of the armed forces and the hospital.
There have been 22 deaths from COVID-19 of residents at the home, as of Saturday at 5 p.m., according to York Region. The home has had a total of 102 cases involving residents, including deaths, and 40 cases involving health care workers.
The deployment of the Canadian military follows the news that a top official with Sienna Senior Living is no longer employed with the company after she was overheard mocking family members of residents there after a virtual town hall meeting.
Joanne Dykeman, former executive vice-president of operations for Sienna Senior Living, mocked two family members after an online call organized to address family concerns on Wednesday.
Family member ‘relieved’ that military will help
Nick Puopolo, whose mother Saveria Puopolo, 85, is a resident of Woodbridge Vista Care Community, said the deployment of the CAF is a positive development. His mother, who has a mild case of COVID-19, was taken to hospital on Saturday for tests and returned to the home on Sunday.
“It’s just more help coming into the facility, which all the family members are glad to hear,” Puopolo said on Sunday.
“My understanding is that the home still doesn’t have enough PSWs and the military will definitely be in there to help and assist with the care of the elderly.”
Puopolo said families of residents have been pressuring government officials for weeks to intervene in the facility because they believe residents were being neglected, and in some cases, ended up dehydrated.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s well overdue,” he added.
Puopolo said he is convinced that, if he and his wife did not tape Dykeman saying “disparaging” things, nothing would have happened at Woodbridge Vista Care Community and Sienna would still be running the facility.
“We would not be getting any answers. More of our elderly family in the facility would end with COVID-19,” he said.
“We’re relieved that it’s happening. It’s just a little hard to swallow that it took something like that for the government to take action as well as getting somebody running the facility basically fired for not doing their job properly.”
Hospital to provide ‘rigorous management structure’
In a news release on Thursday, Ontario’s long term care ministry said that the home has not been able to contain the spread of COVID-19 among its residents even though it has received support from William Osler Health System.
The appointment of the hospital as an interim manager will provide the home with a “rigorous management structure” to help contain the spread, the ministry said.
As well, the hospital will be able to return the home to normal operations, it added.
“During these unprecedented times, it’s important to use every tool available to keep Ontarians safe,” Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, long-term care minister, said in the release.
In a May 31st letter to Premier Doug Ford, SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents health care workers, asked the province to assume control of the home after 18 residents, most with COVID-19, were transferred from the facility to hospital.
The union had said staffing levels were “dangerously low,” temporary workers could not fill the gap and staff had lost confidence in the ability of management to run the home.
Sienna Senior Living, for its part, now says families should email the home if they have any questions about the intervention of the hospital and armed forces.