Vivian Bercovici: COVID is no excuse to impose cruel and inhumane measures on the elderly

The initial lockdown in Ontario nearly finished my mother off. This second iteration surely will

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Dear Ontario Premier Doug Ford:

Isolation, depression, loneliness and desperation will kill my 92-year-old mother before COVID does.

I reside overseas and am nearing the end of a 10-week trip to Canada to visit my mom. She lives in a private long-term care (LTC) facility in Toronto. The initial lockdown in Ontario nearly finished her off. This second iteration surely will.

I appreciate that you are under extraordinary pressure to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. What I do not understand is why your government is repeating the grave errors that were made in the spring.

Government can only manage risk, not eradicate it. As a society, hysteria seems to have overtaken our rational powers. Somewhere, someone decided that our goal with respect to COVID-19 should be to have zero tolerance of death.

But this extreme and unattainable ambition only applies to COVID-19 and not, for example, to pneumonia, which kills thousands of elderly Canadians, year after year. I have not heard you rail about that. Not a word.

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The absurd measures reintroduced late last Friday by your government with respect to LTC homes will destroy all quality of life for the elderly. They are inhumane, medically unjustifiable and they must be changed.

As a society, we have more compassion for dogs than we do for the elderly. I am sorry if that seems harsh, but it is the sad and deplorable reality. Even in the early, panicked days of the COVID-19 crisis, special allowance was made for people to get out to walk their dogs. But the elderly were cooped up “for their own good.”

We now have much more knowledge than we did in March. It is a scientific fact that the coronavirus is transmitted primarily, and most efficiently, in closed, indoor settings. Recycled air compounds this problem.

When the draconian LTC measures imposed initially in Ontario were eased several months ago, my mother emerged greatly diminished, physically and cognitively. Many of the residents in her home have deteriorated significantly. They had been effectively locked in their rooms for months — denied fresh air and unable to go outside for walks.

Imagine that you are in your twilight years, as my mom is, but remarkably strong and determined to forge on. Yet, for months, you have been denied contact with your loved ones. By law.

You should be honoured, cosseted and cared for. Instead, you are shut in your room and have no social interactions.

You are not able to read due to difficulties with concentration and eyesight. You cannot do so many things that once brought you pleasure. Your manual dexterity is shot, meaning that baking, crafts, sewing and playing piano are relegated to distant memories. Yet one of your enduring pleasures is your ability to walk. You enjoy nothing more than being outdoors and simply walking, and talking.

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And when the summer rolls around, you are given a brief reprieve. You are able to go out for walks and visit some of your family members again. Things start to look up.

Yet, for some reason, Premier Ford, you have decided that my mother shall return to the previously inhumane conditions imposed upon her. You can be forgiven for the initial policy lapse, as you panicked — likely with the best of intentions — along with so many other leaders. But it really is time to give your head a long, hard shake.

I’ll put aside the fact that your government’s communications on this latest policy change are confusing. Much more disturbing is that you seem to be regressing and reintroducing the same discredited policy you instituted with respect to LTC homes months ago.

Before COVID-19, my mother’s nursing home was bustling with energy. She undertook, with enthusiasm, the opportunity to make new friends. My brother and his family visited often, making sure to take her on frequent and much-enjoyed outings. When all that was taken from her, she suffered terribly.

When she learned on Monday evening (shortly after I received a letter from her LTC home) that this cruel policy was being reinstated, she cried. She said she is vulnerable and lacks the intellectual and physical resources she once had. My heart was shredded. There is no reason for her to suffer like this.

On what basis does your government determine that a paid health-care worker (who lives off site, of course) presents less risk to my mother, or the other residents in her LTC facility, than a family member? What scientific evidence do you rely upon to justify the prohibition on my mother having the opportunity to get outdoors for a walk?

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We know that fresh air and exercise enhance physical and mental health. I would be interested in knowing the evidentiary basis for invoking such extreme and abusive measures.

Premier, I am aware that you have had personal experience with this in your family. Your intentions are, undoubtedly, pure and well-meaning. This, however, is a bad policy.

You must change course, immediately. You must find the courage to tell Ontarians that there is no way to avoid all deaths during this pandemic. We must find a way to balance quality of life with an acceptable level of risk management.

My mother will not survive another round of this; not unless your government changes course.

With respect,

Vivian Bercovici

Vivian Bercovici is a former Canadian ambassador to Israel. She lives in Tel Aviv.

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