By Ole Hammarlund, MLA
Generally our province has been 100% successful in protecting our seniors from COVID-19. First line of defence is our policy of tracing, testing, and self-isolation, which has been so successful that we have not yet had a single case of community spread. Well over 10,000 people have crossed our borders from all over the world, including widely COVID-19 infected countries, and even though nearly 50 of those people were in fact tested positive, they all recovered or are recovering in self-isolation.
Our second line of defense has been in our nursing homes where visitors were first banned and now restricted. While some may well be suffering from too little contact with family, thankfully no one has contracted the COVID-19 virus that we know is particularly dangerous for seniors.
But not all seniors live in nursing homes. My district Charlottetown-Brighton has government built and operated seniors homes. 501 Queen Street, for instance, is an excellent example of a high quality senior’s home, which the provincial and federal governments constructed about 40 years ago. There are other projects as well and, generally, the occupants I have spoken to are happy to have their affordable apartments available, knowing that rents and facilities such as common rooms cannot be found on the open market without paying twice the rent. Indeed there are hundreds of seniors on the waiting lists for apartments in provincially operated homes.
But all is not well in these buildings. Complaints about repairs or services, if answered at all, is sometimes followed with suggestions that if the occupant is not happy, they can move elsewhere. This is, of course, an insulting suggestion, since no occupant would be able to find an alternate apartment at an equally affordable rent.
Lately, I hear complaints about the cleaning process. Residents are happy about the increased cleaning, but are really concerned that the cleaners do not wear masks or practice social distancing. Their complaints to the Minister are going unanswered. How is it possible that these groups of seniors are not afforded similar protection as seniors in nursing homes? Indeed they are offered no protection at all.
The complaints do not stop here. In fact there seem to be a consistent chorus of complaints that have been told to me in confidence, since residents fear consequences (or inaction) if they complain themselves.
Many complaints are related to lack of maintenance or updating of mechanical systems. Ventilation systems for instance, may have met code 40 years ago, but these systems are now unable to cope, so that one resident’s need to smoke makes life impossible for other neighbour residents who don’t smoke. Others complain about the ban against having even small dogs. This despite the fact that for seniors having a dog can extend their life and make them happier as well.
Many buildings are in fact so large that different life styles can easily be accommodated by simply grouping the occupants in different wings or different floors, according to preferences regarding smoking, pets, and noise, but there is no attempt to do that and occupants moving within the building or to other projects is forbidden or discouraged.
It seems obvious to me that the Minister and other staff responsible for the operation of senior’s homes are missing an important aspect of housing. It is not enough to supply affordable apartments. The goal should be to provide an environment that is supportive so that the seniors living there can live their lives in full comfort and maximum happiness. That of course includes high levels of maintenance, updating of mechanical systems such as heat and ventilation, a friendly method of receiving complaints and requests, accommodation of all types of lifestyles and pets, and, of course, that staff wear masks when in contact with the senior occupants during our COVID-19 crisis.
Why would we offer anything less to our seniors?