The Canadian military is raising the alarm about neglect in Ontario nursing homes after troops discovered deplorable conditions while assisting with elderly care in several facilities.

There are currently about 150 nursing and elderly care facilities experiencing a coronavirus outbreak in the province of Ontario, Canada. To help provide additional assistance, the Canadian military stepped in to help care for these elderly and frail men and women, but what they found in at least five of the facilities was shocking.

According to the report, the abuse included neglect, rotten food, the presence of flies and cockroaches, residents being left in soiled diapers, lack of personal protective equipment, reuse of unsterilized equipment like catheters, expired medications, overwhelmed staff members, underfeeding and forced feedings, which contributed to the death of one patient. The report also notes that quarantine measures are not being followed, with patients infected with COVID-19 interacting with other, healthy patients.

“It is scandalous. It is shameful. It is shocking,” Jacqueline Mitchell, whose mother is in a nursing home, said to CBC. “Our senior generation is living in that, and that is a national atrocity.”

There are also reports that the provincial government was aware of the situation, or should have known about the situation, but it took a military report to bring it to the nation’s attention.

“On reading the deeply disturbing report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “It is extremely troubling, and as I’ve said from the very beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country, through this pandemic and beyond.”

To a certain extent, the U.S. isn’t doing much better when it comes to keeping vulnerable patients safe.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo required nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals, which put other healthy residents at risk. As a confined space, nursing homes can be a breeding ground for disease and many health care workers expressed their frustration with the order, which Cuomo eventually rescinded.

When the initial outbreak in the United States first began, it started in a nursing home in King County, Washington. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 81 residents, 34 staff members and 14 visitors became infected in long-term care facilities and 23 died.

For anyone who has a family member that lives in a nursing home, this Canadian report and the situation in New York are troubling and fuel concerns about how our elderly relatives are being cared for in the absence of family oversight during this pandemic.

When my parents were first looking for a nursing and memory care facility for my grandmother, it was challenging to find a suitable location that would accept Medicaid. Some facilities they toured smelled strongly of urine and many had been under investigation at some point for abuse and neglect. It was horrifying to think that my grandmother, who struggles with dementia, would be treated in a manner similar to what’s happening in Canada and be unable to properly express how she’s being treated.

Caring for an elderly family member is difficult, especially as their mental and physical faculties begin to decline to such an extent that it becomes overwhelming to care for them without partial or fulltime help. As a culture that values life, we should make every effort to ensure that our elders are treated with care, dignity and respect.

This situation in Canada should be a wakeup call of what can happen in elder care facilities and nursing homes during a pandemic as oversight and family visits decline.


Additional Resources:

Caring for Elderly Parents: The Complete Guide

Dealing with Elder Care Burnout

At-Home Alternatives for Elder Care

The Greatest Danger to Many Elders