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Community Care Durham CEO says all Durham seniors ‘deserve a shot in the arm — soon’

Community Care Durham CEO says all Durham seniors ‘deserve a shot in the arm — soon’

James Meloche notes not all elderly people live in long-term care settings

I want to raise the issue of the lack of clear direction and prioritization of the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan as it pertains to older adults living in the community and their care providers.

Notwithstanding the fundamental problem of vaccine supply in Ontario, setting priorities is not a supply problem. It’s a leadership one, based on science and social priorities.

As the CEO of Community Care Durham (CCD), it’s my duty to advocate on behalf of our more than 10,000 clients.   Our mission is to enrich the well-being and quality of life for people who choose to live at home. We do this in partnership with other Durham organizations who share this same goal. Every day these organizations support the tireless efforts of clients and their caregivers to safely live at home. But the stay-at-home requirements necessitated by COVID-19 have made this struggle more difficult.

Since March, many at-risk elderly persons who live alone or with a single-care provider have feared leaving their homes. Others, impacted by conditions like dementia, have difficulty in adhering to public health measures such as mask use. The physical and mental stress on these clients and their caregivers will have lasting impacts on them, threatening their independence, leading to premature hospitalization or institutionalization in long-term care (LTC). Many caregivers and families are at their breaking point.

According to recent Public Health Ontario figures, of the 5,289 COVID-19 deaths, 96 per cent are people over the age of 60. And of the 5,064 deaths in this age cohort, nearly 2,000 deaths are seniors not living in long-term care. That’s nearly one-third of all deaths of persons over 60 occurring in the community.

Consider that the average age of CCD’s Adult Day Program clients is 77. Meals on Wheels clients, 78 years. Assisted Living and Supportive Housing clients average 82 years. During the pandemic we have not stopped providing vital services.

It is absolutely justified that LTC residents and their care providers are at the front of the vaccination line. But what about those at-risk older adults living at home, often alone? What about their formal and informal care providers? The province’s response to the needs of this population is muddled at best, and out of step with the recommendations of the scientific community.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that the priority for COVID-19 vaccinations should be those living in congregate settings and who are at high risk of illness or death and front-line workers dealing with COVID-19 patients, including in-home personal support workers supporting those at risk of illness or death from COVID-19.

The government proudly boasts that 77,000 hospital workers have been vaccinated, irrespective if those workers are supporting COVID-19 patients. When asked by one of my 263 direct care employees when they will be vaccinated, I respond with “we can only wait and see.” This answer is repeated to thousands of workers and clients in Ontario’s home and community care agencies.

If data doesn’t resonate with decision makers, consider Tom. Tom is 105 and receives home support services from CCD. Tom’s generation crossed the ocean and fought in foreign lands. Now Tom sits confined to his home, fearful of going out for groceries or to see his family. Tom and all the seniors living in our community deserve a shot in the arm — soon.

The Metroland Media Group first published this column on January 26, 2020.