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Saskatchewan grandmother at long-term care home unable to wash hands regularly, family says

Hand washing
Marea Olafson says her grandmother has mobility issues due to osteoporosis and is unable to get to the bathroom by herself to wash her hands at the long-term care facility in Foam Lake. THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images

A 93-year-old woman living in a Saskatchewan long-term care home is unable to wash her hands regularly during the coronavirus pandemic due to staffing shortages at the facility says her family.

Marea Olafson says her grandmother, Ellen Ross, has mobility issues due to osteoporosis and is unable to get to the bathroom by herself.

Read more: Saskatchewan NDP ask government to set minimum care standard for long-term care homes

“We’ve had at least six incidents where she had to wait over 40 minutes to an hour to get to the bathroom,” Marea Olafson said.

“She’s being forced to be incontinent, and as a result, she’s going to deteriorate enough they’ll have to put her in diapers. That goes against the guidelines of respect and dignity.”

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Ellen Ross, 93, is a retired nurse who is now a resident of a long-term care home. According to her family, she’s only able to wash her hands once a week due to mobility issues, and understaffing. Ross is shown above with her two great-granddaughters. (Photo courtesy of Marea Olafson)
Ellen Ross, 93, is a retired nurse who is now a resident of a long-term care home. According to her family, she’s only able to wash her hands once a week due to mobility issues, and understaffing. Ross is shown above with her two great-granddaughters. (Photo courtesy of Marea Olafson). Photo courtesy of Marea Olafson

Olafson and her family are concerned the sanitary issues at Foam Lake Jubilee Lodge is putting residents like her grandmother at an elevated risk during the pandemic.

“The only time her hands see soap and water is when she has her weekly bath,” Olafson said.

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“Otherwise she’s handed a face cloth. She feels completely filthy. The filthiest in her whole life.”

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) put the Foam Lake long-term care facility and 20 other homes in rural Saskatchewan under heightened risk for the coronavirus transmission. As a result, visitation has been restricted to outdoor visits.

Read more: Coronavirus: Visitor access restricted in 21 long-term care homes in rural Saskatchewan

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Last week, Olafson visited her grandmother and took her to the bathroom herself.

“She was very excited to be able to wash her hands with soap and water. It’s crazy that’s the thing I’m having to fight for: to have her wash her hands with soap and water.”

Olafson says she has been going back and forth with the facility’s manager, the health authority and ministry of health for nearly four months on the issue.

The SHA confirmed residents are offered a washcloth to clean themselves every morning and evening and that baths and showers are offered weekly.

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“As with any care plan, the SHA realizes there is always room for improvement,” said the SHA in a statement.

“The SHA will work with residents and their families to encourage stronger hand hygiene practices and improve upon individual care plans in coordination with both the family and resident.”

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However, Olafson is asking for more oversight, and encourages all Saskatchewan MLAs to spend a week in a long-term care facility.

“I am disappointed that there are no provincial regulations to resident ratios to care workers based on needs of residents. There are very vague guidelines that each facility are to follow how best they can,” Olafson said.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says this incident speaks to understaffing problems at long-term care facilities in Saskatchewan.

Read more: ‘Brutal’ heat at Strasbourg, Sask., senior care home has nurse pleading for help

“We know that front-line care workers are working incredibly hard under difficult circumstances and understaffing by this government is putting them in impossible situations. Especially during a pandemic, we need urgent action to address that understaffing, for the safety of residents, of staff, and of families,” Mowat said.

As of Thursday, Ross has since moved to another care home in Wynyard which is closer to family.

Despite the move, Olafson is hoping the province will legislate minimum-care standards. But until then, she’s willing to continue to fight for her grandmother’s dignity.

“I’m not tired of the fight,” Olafson said. “I’ll keep going.”

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