MANY YEARS AGO, I wrote a song about residents in an extended care home. The chorus goes like this: “I’m not dead yet, I’m not going leave, I’m not going ‘til Hell freezes over.”
That’s the song I think residents in long-term care homes are singing now.
Of the 900,000 over the age of 65, there are 28,000 (three per cent) living in long-term care facilities.
This week, and previously, reports from B.C. and Ontario shed light on how vulnerable those living in long-term care homes are. Close to 50 per cent of the 900-plus COVID-19 related deaths in Canada are at these facilities. Some long-term care homes have experienced 10, 20 or even more than 30 deaths.
Perhaps these deaths don’t matter. On average, a stay in one of these homes is about two years. The end of an extended care home resident’s stay is inevitably the same result: death. What’s the difference in a few months?
That is what one Conservative MP Marc Dalton essentially said when he tweeted out (soon to be deleted) “Most deaths are in care homes where average life expectancy is 2 yrs & 65% usually pass in the 1st yr. Time to start moving Canada back to work?”
Time to move on, indeed.
Except that each of us, who is lucky enough to get to 65 years old, or older, face the same path to the end.
No one ends up in an extended care home without many other steps. First there might be the support of doctors, nurse practitioners, physiotherapists, and other medical practitioners to help with health concerns.
Then, when the day-to-day struggles get too much, there might be home support workers or programs like Better At Home. After that, one might live in an assisted living residence.
A senior’s partner, or other family, also provide help every step of the way.
By the time a senior, as MP Marc Dalton so eloquently puts it, enters an extended care home with two years left to live, they and their families will have spent years doing everything possible so that they didn’t have to go there.
By the time a senior enters an extended care home, they are extremely frail. B.C.’s Seniors Advocate reports nine in 10 residents in extended care homes have some cognitive impairment, with one in three severely affected. As well, six in 10 use a wheelchair.
All need help with the most basics of life, from eating, to bathing, to dressing, to getting out of bed.
To have lived so long, even as they have become so frail, a person in an extended care home needs to have a will to live.
None of them arrived in the care home without spending a long, productive, and meaningful life. They are someone who has raised children, and loved grandchildren. They have given decades of time to their community. None of them arrived at the care home without doing all they could to stay out of it as long as possible.
Not everyone of us will end our lives in an extended care home. But each of us knows someone we love who has or will.
Protecting those in extended care hospitals is as important as protecting all of us. In the fight against COVID-19, we’re all in this together.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.