Daughter of N.S. woman with COVID-19 frustrated by lack of communication with nursing home

On March 31, all residents at Magnolia Continuing care are being tested for COVID-19 after 2 staff members and 2 residents were confirmed to have the virus. Jesse Thomas / Global News

An 87-year-old woman at The Magnolia residential care home in Enfield, N.S., has been quarantined in her room since she tested positive for COVID-19 almost a week ago.

She’s one of the 293 confirmed cases in the province as of Monday, and her daughter, Heather Comeau, says her mother is still unsure of what’s going on.

“It’s very frustrating because my mother is claustrophobic and she doesn’t understand why she’s in the room,” said Comeau in a phone interview with Global last Wednesday, who would not disclose her mother’s name for safety reasons.

“We’ve tried to tell her that there’s a virus, but the [nursing home] told me not to tell her what she has because they don’t want her to panic, so she is really anxious,”
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READ MORE: N.S. nursing homes work to minimize COVID-19 threat

On April 1, the province announced that among the infected individuals is a staff member at The Magnolia residential care home in Enfield.

That makes three staff members and two residents of The Magnolia who have tested positive, which includes Comeau’s mother.

In the meantime, Comeau has been speaking to her mother, who has congestive heart failure, almost every day over the phone.

On Wednesday, she found out that her mother’s temperature had gone up and that she’s developing a slight cough.

But getting that information about her mother’s health has been challenging.

READ MORE: Some home-care visits cancelled in N.S. due to COVID-19 staff shortages

I’ve been trying to get in touch with people at The Magnolia, I’ve been calling nurses. They have personal care workers that work on each floor and calling them and nobody seems to answer the phone or call me back.”

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, nursing homes have been preparing for potential staff shortages, and even getting VON nurses —  a charitable home and community care organization — to help.

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Additionally, some facilities, like Shannex, are hiring additional people to help lessen the blow of potential shortages.

The spokesperson for The Magnolia, Tracey Tulloch said on Monday that they weren’t able to communicate with the families quickly because they were managing with fewer staff.

“We feel badly that they weren’t able to get immediate confirmation,” said Tulloch. “Often the last thing to happen was communicating with the families, unfortunately.

READ MORE: Long-term care directives announced as Nova Scotia nears 300 COVID-19 cases

“We were sending out updates, but perhaps the updates weren’t getting to the appropriate list of family members because we only have a certain group of people who can contact families regarding our residents.”

Tulloch also noted that in the initial days when they had their first positive result, their focus was to make sure they were maintaining the care of their residents.

“I will say we were delayed in reaching out to the families for specifics because we just did not have the opportunity to be able to report each individual resident’s situation,” said Tulloch.

“Our focus is working towards making sure we have the residents care at the forefront.”

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Comeau says she understand that nursing homes are busy and are facing new challenges amid the outbreak, but believes there should be a system in place for families of infected individuals at nursing homes to get updates about the health of their loved ones.

“I’ve told them that if there’s a way that they can drop me a quick text every day or an e-mail or something…but they keep saying that it’s easier if I just call them,” said Comeau.

“But I’ve been trying to do that and the phone is ringing off the hook and nobody picks up or calls me back. It has been very isolating.”

READ MORE: ‘Stay the blazes home,’ McNeil warns as Nova Scotia COVID-19 cases surpass 200

Comeau said that she’s wondering if the family of the other resident who tested positive are having the same difficulty to get information as she is.

In terms of having a system in place to communicate information, Tulloch said they are now e-mailing the families about the health of their loved ones.

As of Monday, Comeau said she has received an e-mail from one of the nurses and a doctor on call has reached out to her.

“My mother is still stable, sleeping a lot,” said Comeau.

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She also said that she received a written statement via e-mail from the nursing home apologizing for the delay.

“We are working to ensure safety first, and are hopeful that by next week, once we have more of our regular staff back, we can find creative ways to have families communicate with their loved ones,” the statement reads.

Comeau hopes the nursing home will begin to communicate better with families, and that people across the province take the health protection measures more seriously.

“I see a lot of things on Twitter and on Facebook about people saying why they have to do this or that, but if they had a family member that had it, I think they feel differently,” said Comeau.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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