Experience #4

The war on COVID-19: A different kind of casualty

 

For nearly three years, I have been a resident of a private, for-profit long-term care home. The following remarks are based on my own personal experience of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

 

Much has been made of the pandemic’s negative impact on social connectedness – the isolation of long-term care residents from family members. But the war on COVID-19 has claimed a seldom-considered casualty of a different kind: the exercise of democratic rights by residents and family members alike.

 

It has often been said that the first casualty of war is truth. In this war, the casualty is the ability to speak truth to power.

 

Because of the need for physical distancing to curb the spread of the virus, in-person meetings of my home’s residents’ and family councils have become impossible for the past four months. Residents’ council meetings have been replaced by a weekly update from the administrator, in which information is provided in a top-down fashion, and decisions are presented as faits accomplis. The chair and secretary of the family council forward almost daily emails from Family Councils of Ontario on the developing situation.

 

The residents’ and family councils serve as conduits for distributing COVID-related information. (As in the media, the pandemic has taken up all the oxygen in the room. Everything else is viewed through its highly focused lens.)

 

There are no opportunities to provide input or feedback, or to discuss or challenge administrative decisions. This further promotes an atmosphere of “we know what’s good for you” paternalism.

 

Residents are already treated as de facto legal minors, given the high rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the long-term care home population. However, the same pretext cannot be invoked for regarding family members in a similar light.

 

Surely, a way could be found to allow in-person meetings of both councils, so they may exercise the vital functions for which they were established, and hold management accountable during the pandemic, as they would seek to do under normal circumstances.

 

It is unhealthy for residents’ and family councils to be on the casualty list.