Monday, July 22, 2024

A sad situation

Well, it’s been a month since they cancelled school and enacted sweeping isolation legislation across the province. How’s everyone holding up?
Across this region 30 days ago, people had their hours cut, their businesses closed down and their kids sent home from school. Despite the numerous bailout efforts from the government, though they are impressive in their speed and scale, millions of people will be feeling the pinch from this pandemic for years to come.
The brunt of the human cost of this crisis will be borne by the most vulnerable in our society. Services in our rural community are stretched thin at the best of times. The closure of the local obstetrics unit was the subject of numerous headlines in the months leading up to this crisis, and that problem hasn’t gone away. It wasn’t so long ago that expectant mothers travelling to the city to give birth was an unthinkable reality. Now, they’ll be lucky if they don’t have to negotiate a police checkpoint or two on their journey.
How the times have changed.
This week, it came to light that conditions at a private seniors residence in Montreal had deteriorated far enough to warrant the public health authority stepping in. What the replacement staff found was horrific, patients were unfed and lying in their own waste. Those that were infected with the virus weren’t separated from their peers.
Incredibly, Katasa Development Group, the Gatineau-based group that owns the home, as well as six others across the province, refused to cooperate with authorities and it took a court order for them to give up their residents’ medical records and family contact info. So far, 31 people have died at the home since March 13, but it’s unclear how many of these deaths can be directly attributed to COVID-19.
As of Monday, 106 people have died of the disease in Quebec’s long-term care facilities, or CHSLDs, making up around half of the province’s overall deaths.
The thing is, problems existed in these facilities prior to being hit by this pandemic. According to staff that THE EQUITY spoke to last year, short-staffing was common at the local CHSLDs, leading to a decline in care for residents (obviously not on this scale, but nonetheless it’s a disturbing trend). These testimonies were backed up by another investigation by this newspaper that found that the amount of overtime paid out to staff at these facilities had risen over the past five years. With an aging population, this isn’t an issue that’s going away any time soon.
The way we treat our elderly is a damning indictment of our society and should have been addressed long before people were dying in a pandemic. The workers in these facilities need support now more than ever, but they were asking for help long before this viral outbreak.
If there’s anything positive to be said about this crisis, it’s that it has highlighted areas in which our social safety net has some holes. It turns out there are some gaping ones.
In addition to seniors and expectant mothers, there are plenty of other groups that are uniquely vulnerable in these times. People struggling from abuse have limited means of escape. People with addiction issues will have a more difficult time dealing with isolation. People living paycheque to paycheque are getting laid off.
Let’s hope that in the rush to get things “back to normal” (whatever that means at this point), we don’t neglect to learn from this experience and create a more compassionate society.

Caleb Nickerson


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