Barrie mayor suggests another approach to senior care in the wake of COVID-19 devastation

There has been a total of 834 confirmed cases of the virus among residents at Ontario long-term care homes

With the number of COVID-19 cases among residents of long-term facilities approaching nearly 900 in Ontario, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said there needs to be a discussion around how seniors in our communities are cared for.

Lehman made the suggestion in a series of tweets on Monday and expanded upon that during a conversation with Barrie 360 news today.

“Everybody is focused now on how do we save lives and to stop the spread of the virus. That is the top area of concern and should be.”

Lehman had nothing but praise for people who are working in LTC facilities.

“There are a lot of heroes out there. Working in long-term care has to be right at the top of the list.”

The mayor said there are so many pieces to health care and what COVID has shown is that LTC facilities are vulnerable to the virus. Lehman would like to see municipalities, other levels of government and LTC providers take a look at different models, such as homes in residential areas that are staffed but have only a few seniors living in them than one would find at a LTC facility.

“What if the long-term care home of the future looks like 10 or 15 or five or six bed homes that look like every day homes in a suburban neighbourhood?” asked Lehman. “They could be put all in the same geographic area. Maybe not next to each other, but in the same neighbourhood, where they could easily share services. The places would still be staffed and operated in a way similar to a larger home, just smaller and on a more personal scale.”

The model Lehman is suggesting is not new and the mayor quickly points out what he is advocating for is not reinventing the wheel, as there are models like that in some European countries.

Lehman said LTC facilities are big buildings with the same ventilation systems and shared spaces and services.

“They were proving impossible to keep viruses out before COVID-19.”

Lehman said there are norovirus outbreaks and seasonal flu which means LTC homes have to go into lockdowns.

“Residents in those facilities are probably quite familiar with self-isolation because they had to do it all the time.”

As of Wednesday morning, the death toll in the province from COVID-19 was 385. Ontarians aged 80 or older represented more than one in six cases of the virus and well over half the deaths, at 247.

In Simcoe County, another death of a senior was reported today at Bradford Valley Care Community. The local health unit said 24 residents at the long-term care facility have now tested positive for COVID-19, and of those, three have died. Five staff have also tested positive for the virus.

Before the pandemic, Lehman said they had started to look at the future of the City and health care more broadly, taking a look at a healthy community.

Since his tweets, Lehman said he had been contacted by three different service providers of retirement residences and LTC facilities who saw his idea and were thinking along the same lines.

The mayor would like to hear from LTC providers who might be interested in doing one of these models as a first step.

“The long-term care approach has been cost effective but we are now seeing some of the limitations of that cost effectiveness.”

Lehman said homes for the aged is such a fragmented system. In fact, he said there is not really a system, and then referenced the fact there are private homes, publicly funded homes, some are subsidized and some are not, retirement residences that are public and private.Lehman said an effort needs to be made system-wide to redesigning the system.

As a society, the mayor firmly believes we can do better for our seniors. Taking nothing away from the hard working staff in these facilities, Lehman said what has happened in LTC homes as a result of COVID-19 is tragic.

“One of the awful things about COVID-19 is it is just very, very hard on the elderly.”

Once the pandemic ends, the mayor wants to look at where we go from here when it comes to senior care, adding there have already been painful and tragic lessons.