First, the sage advice: 1. Save your money. 2. Plan ahead.
Dad is finally in a long-term care home and it certainly seems like a good one. A childhood friend works there and she’s happy and has only positive things to say about it. Everyone on staff seems engaged and there’s a lot for him to do. There are issues with communication and consistency but I don’t think any of us expects perfection.
My Mom did most of the home tours in order to whittle down the choices to five. This is how it works with CCAC (Community Care Access Centre), the organization that governs in-home and long-term care on behalf of the provincial government. You pick five and when a room of your choice (private, semi-private, or basic) comes open, you take it because if you don’t, you’re off the long list for three months. Even if you take a room in your fifth choice of home, you can still move up to your first choice when there something opens up. I visited one home during its open house and I’m not at all surprised that it’s in the news now: Telfer Place in Paris, ON.
This isn’t to say that bad things can’t happen in good homes, or that Telfer Place is horrible. But word of mouth hasn’t been great and now it’s implicated in the so-called serial killer nurse case of Elizabeth Wettlaufer. She’s the former RN who’s accused of murdering eight long-term care residents in two homes in London and Woodstock. Police recently added five new charges of aggravated assault she is alleged to have carried out against residents at Caressant Care in Woodstock, and an attempted murder at Telfer Place.
My tour began with the General Manager, a well-dressed woman with an air of authority. After asking me a few questions, she led me around the spacious and beautiful retirement residence. This is the area whose fees aren’t capped by the provincial government. As long as people are willing to pay, they can charge what they want. It’s gorgeous, plush and bright. We went up a few floors to view an apartment and she never stopped talking about all they offered.
Then I asked to see long-term care. The GM’s face fell and she summoned an employee before hurrying away. I was led through a locked door and into a long, narrow hallway lined on both sides with people in wheelchairs. I tried to smile as I said hello to the faces staring vacantly ahead. A woman cleaned a dining area that was nowhere near big enough for the number of people in view. No one spoke except for an occasional cough or moan. It reminded me of movie scenes of insane asylums in the middle ages. These residents were all “allowed” to use the facilities of the retirement area, but how could they? They couldn’t get to the door let alone punch the keys. Only if someone came to visit could they hope to get out of this collection of humanity for a while. I was shaking by the time I left, determined that our father would never see a place such as this.
“We have plans to renovate”, said my tour guide.
“Oh, when?” I asked.
“Well, there’s no firm timeline at this point…..”
These were the people and this was the setting where former RN Wettlaufer is accused of trying to carry out one of her evil deeds. I can picture her in that cramped, stifling environment, wearing a phony smile and going about her rounds, her behavior unnoticed. It gives me the willies. As of late last week, the Woodstock home where most of the murders are alleged to have taken place is temporarily closed to new admissions. People who have family members in these homes must be terribly upset.
Someone asked me if the Wettlaufer case made me worry about my Dad’s safety and the answer is no, not any more than I already worry about him. We’re all vigilant and on watch for anything that might seem amiss, but I also maintain that people are basically good. Have you seen what a PSW (Personal Support Worker), RPN or RN has to do in a day? It’s not a job you take on a lark. Wettlaufer, if she’s guilty, is an anomaly, not a trend. I’m just so grateful that we had choices and that we didn’t have to take him to that hell-hole of a care centre. Twenty-thousand Ontarians are still waiting for a room. Some of them, surely, will have to settle for whatever they can get.