Manitoba needs seniors’ advocate, families of long-term care residents who died of COVID-19 say

Families of Manitobans who died in personal care homes tied purple ribbons outside a Winnipeg long-term care facility on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day to call for better treatment of seniors in the province.

The ribbons were hung outside of Maples Long Term Care Home, where 56 residents died from COVID-19 during an outbreak declared last October. By the time it ended after nearly three months, 157 residents and 74 staff had been infected, according to a report commissioned by Manitoba Health.

Eddie Calisto-Tavares’s father, 88-year-old Manuel Calisto, was among those who died. She wants the province to learn from the mistakes at Maples and appoint an independent advocate for seniors.

“Many of us that lost our loved ones in long-term care [think] that it was due to neglect that we had these major outbreaks. It was due to the lack of planning, the lack of investment, the lack of resources,” Calisto-Tavares said.

“An independent seniors’ advocate would be a place where people who don’t know where to go, or families that are not as loud as me … [could] come out and ask for what we need for our loved ones.”

Calisto-Tavares and other members of families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 in care homes hung ribbons and paid homage outside of Maples Long Term Care Home. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Manitoba’s Official Opposition party also wants to see an advocate appointed.

“This independent body should have a mandate to investigate systemic inequalities in long-term care and other services and publicly report their findings,” said Manitoba NDP health critic and Union Station MLA Uzoma Asagwara. 

“We owe it to the generations that came before us to shed light on inequities and pursue a stronger, more compassionate system.”

Blake Robert, the director of media relations for the province’s executive council, says the concept of an independent seniors’ advocate isn’t under active consideration at this time because the province’s ombudsman performs many of the same functions.

Results of Maples review

The province ordered an external review into the Maples outbreak following the night of Nov. 6, when paramedics were called to the facility to care for a dozen rapidly deteriorating residents.

When ambulances arrived, two residents receiving end-of-life care had died, including one who had COVID-19, officials previously said. The next day, health officials said eight people had died at the 200-bed care home in the preceding 48 hours.

WATCH | Eddie Calisto-Tavares remembers her father:

Eddie Calisto-Tavares lost her father, Manuel, to COVID-19 on Nov. 11. 2:14

Manuel Calisto died on Nov. 11 with his daughter at his side.

“There was no way I was going to allow him to die alone and feel that he wasn’t loved,” Calisto-Tavares said.

The review, which was conducted by Dr. Lynn Stevenson and released in February, found the facility wasn’t prepared for a sudden staffing shortage. It made 17 recommendations for the care home, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Manitoba’s health incident command structure and health department.

Calisto-Tavares says she’s upset that the recommendations haven’t been implemented yet.

“Nothing has happened so far. I will continue to use my voice, and so will other families collectively, until we bring some of these changes,” she said.

The province says it has created an implementation plan and released a progress report last month to monitor the progress on the report’s 17 recommendations.

To do that, the province is establishing 13 working groups with members from government, health care and long-term care to address the recommendations. A steering team will oversee it all.

The progress report says 12 working groups had been formed as of May 9, and four of those groups had held meetings with members.

The province has also hired a consultant to provide support to the working groups.

The Maples care home has also updated its pandemic protocols and is inviting family members of residents to take part in a council to help in the decision-making process on matters affecting the daily lives of residents, the progress report says.