Government-sanctioned lockdowns left seniors in long-term care vulnerable to neglect and systemic mismanagement

Seniors in nursing homes died of neglect and bureaucratic ineptitude as ill-informed COVID-19 policy and terror swept the province of Ontario.

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Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario was the first long-term care home in the province to be declared with an outbreak of COVID-19, facilitating a media frenzy and instilling terror into the general population.

The carnage that ensued when the home lost nearly half of its 65 residents over a two-and-a-half-week period was framed as COVID-related. This is although the deaths only occurred after terrified and sniffly staff stopped showing up for their shifts.

Yet if you questioned the narrative that it was COVID to blame, you were coined a selfish grandma killer. There was extreme social shaming that was unfurled relentlessly as neighbours tattled on neighbours and people called police on kids playing in parks.

All while the measures put in place to protect seniors instead left them vulnerable and at risk to abuse and neglect.

It’s why I filed – and have subsequently appealed and persisted with – an Access to Information Request in September 2020 on what happened at Pinecrest Nursing Home.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care (MLTC) originally tried to tell me (in April of 2021) that no responsive records existed for my inquiry, despite the fact that prior communication with the home had administrators reveal that they had daily communication with various health system partners.

It was in the spring of 2020 when David Menzies went to visit Pinecrest after the home had become severely understaffed.

Staff also faced a shortage of PPE thanks to the repeated failures of Theresa Tam’s Public Health Agency of Canada, which sent 16 tonnes of PPE to China a month before the pandemic pandemonium broke out in Canada, leaving staff at Pinecrest scrambling without masks or gowns.

It was at that point that the local health unit got involved.

The local medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) was Lynn Noseworthy, who received a 32.6% raise in 2020 for a cushy $406 154 yearly salary, arguably in part thanks to the overtime necessary to address the situation at Pinecrest.

Although it was too little, too late. In the two and a half weeks that ensued after March 20 2020, the home lost nearly half of it’s residents. And COVID was blamed.

After all, as reported by the now-disbanded Ontario Science Table, 81% of COVID-related deaths during the first wave of COVID in Canada were in long-term care homes. This was utilized to institute mass hysteria and further justify lockdowns, mandates, and restrictions that have caused massive societal, economic, and health harms.

The now-released documents show that deaths were a result of panic, ill-preparedness, and an impossible-to-navigate bureaucracy… not necessarily a respiratory infection.

On March 21, Noseworthy emailed the Emergency Operations Centre of the Ministry of Health with the subject “Emergency Request for Assistance with staffing and PPE for our nursing home outbreak” and flags the importance as high.

She notes that there are “14 staff members who are symptomatic and off work, self-isolating at home,” and that the “nursing home is severely understaffed due to the high attack rate within resident and staff populations and has a significant shortage of PPE,” noting that there is concern over the emergency situation. Noseworthy asks how to “expedite appropriate staffing support and PPE supplies?”

An email from David Lamb on March 23 shows that the ministry was scrambling trying to get college students to jump in and assist. “Can you put together a list of the [nursing] homes [with staffing issues] plus the colleges closest to them? I think we have to consider seeing if we can get some learners in there maybe,” he writes.

The next day, on March 24, which is four days after the outbreak was declared Noseworthy sends an email to Sarah Levitt and Barbara Yaffe asking for help.

“I understand the critical staffing issue was bumped up to the Regional Table for discussion yesterday,” she writes, wondering if they were “able to mobilize any staff to support the nursing home?”

She then asks if ill staff with resolved symptoms can return back to work, “as long as they wear appropriate PPE and provide care only to the ill residents?” adding that “they don’t have time to wait for the results of two specimens taken 24 hours apart for those staff whose symptoms have resolved.”

This shows the absolute absurdity and devastating harms caused by senseless COVID testing policies as early as March 2020, which arguably still persist today in various sectors across the country.

The same day, Sarah Levitt from the Ministry of Health responds to Noseworthy saying “we have provided the home with a contact at the RNOA who was going to support with nursing resources.”

Yet by the afternoon, Noseworthy sends another e-mail reiterating that the “nursing home is desperate for staff and has now contacted the local municipality to see if their communication services can go public to look for volunteers to help them,” before asking “is an EMAT not an option?”

Less than an hour later she re-sends it with the priority flag.

The next day, on March 25, Noseworthy emails Stacey Colameco, the Director of LTC Inspections, saying that Pinecrest “is still understaffed and has been unsuccessful in getting staffing assistance,” noting that “resident care is being adversely affected,” and that the “mayor has requested that the health unit send public health inspectors to investigate.”

“We’re in the process of setting up an urgent call to discuss possible solutions. We have been escalating everywhere for days,” Colameco responds.

On March 26 – nearly a week after the outbreak was declared – Catherine Brown asks the MLTC to intervene and “take action immediately to stabilize the home so the residents can continue to be cared for in place.”

She notes that there is “difficulty reaching anyone who is in a decision-making position at Pinecrest” and that the “owner is not responding, seemingly MIA [missing in action].”

As the situation gains attention, HKPR issues a Media Release on March 26 quoting Dr. Noseworthy, “this outbreak of COVID-19 is currently the largest outbreak in the province… and really brings home how devastating and deadly this virus can be for older people in our communities,” it reads.

Still, blaming COVID. Not mismanagement. And while the bureaucrats are scrambling, frail elderly residents are dying.

Let’s look at one of the recap summaries detailed in the ATIP:

  • Respiratory outbreak declared within the home on March 18 with 3 confirmed positives.
  • *A new admission from Toronto on March 10
    is said to be the source of the infection – was asymptomatic upon admission and shortly after became symptomatic. This was the first resident to have a confirmed positive COVID test on March 17.
  • Three days later, on March 20, the outbreak was confirmed and declared to the Ministry of Long Term Care.
  • Sometime between March 24 and 25 deaths began.
  • The home reported two resident deaths on March 25; they were symptomatic but not tested on direction from the public health unit (a provincial policy applied in flu outbreaks that stipulates if there are three positives, then everyone with symptoms thereafter is presumed to have the same virus). They had only 4 PSW’s to start the evening shift and staff are available for the night shift.

Doesn’t it seem oddly coincidental that nurse Sarah Gardiner previously told media that nobody showed up for the 3 PM to 11 PM shift on Monday, March 23 and then the death count began ticking thereafter?

  • On March 26th, private, for-profit Extendicare Assist was asked to provide management support to Pinecrest – they were to provide the home with infection prevention and control expertise and develop staffing plans

Email communications from April 9 detail that the ministry didn’t even have a management contract in place with Extendicare – there was “no time” and instead they “finalized a process” that named “Extendicare as a vendor of record as a management company for LTC homes that encounter issues.”

Strangely, while discussing details on April 2, Assistant Deputy Minister of LTC Operations Division Brian Pollard already knew this would happen when he says that “Pinecrest is a significant risk point for the ministry.” He continues that the “ministry triggered an existing contract with Extendicare Assist to support homes that they’ve effectively taken over, which is what they’re doing with Pinecrest, and there is usually a $2 million dollar budget in the LTC line to pay for it.” He goes on to discuss contracts with Craig Eaton from Compass Canada for a meal-delivery service at Pinecrest.

Going back to the summary:

  • Extendicare was brought in and by March 27 it is reported that there are “no staff shortages and staffing is stable” yet the following day, on March 28, the carnage continues with 3 “COVID-related deaths are reported by the home.”

Every day from March 29 to April 4 (when the summaries end), there is at least one resident death but more often at least two or three per day.

Yet only those initial three confirmed positives, from weeks prior, were ever tested. It wasn’t until April 1 that HKPR stepped in and tested 32 residents.

Even more unbelievably, it wasn’t until April 3 that “symptomatic residents were cohorted to one side of the building with designated staff.”

According to the emails enclosed, the outbreak was not declared over by HKPR until May 14, 2020. It looks like Noseworthy was trying to follow the science around COVID testing when the outbreak was declared over, too:

“In many cases, residual genetic material can continue to persist in the nasopharyngeal cavity for quite some time, which is proving to be very problematic in many circumstances. The presence of the virus does not equate to communicability.”

Yet the local hospital, Ross Memorial, whose role throughout the management of the COVID crisis is unclear throughout the documents, chimes in on May 15 asking for “the outbreak status to be reinstated due to continued concerns not captured with the Infection Prevention and control report.”

We know now that by the end of April 2020, Premier of Ontario Doug Ford called in the Canadian military to address concerns just like the one that happened at Pinecrest.

The now infamous military report detailed horrific instances of malnutrition, neglect, filthy living conditions, and bug infestations.

In one home, “26 residents died as a result of dehydration prior to the arrival of the military due to lack of staff to care for them… they died when all they needed was water and a wipe down.”

Is this what really happened at Pinecrest?

The documents show that there were poor infection control practices because the home was filled to the brim in a communal living situation, there was a delayed response to the outbreak, an obvious lack of transparency, and worsening staff shortages as terror was instilled into the general population about an inflated infection fatality rate based on faulty modeling.

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