Henry Tomaszewski says he had no idea his mother was seriously ill until a nurse practitioner at a Toronto long-term care home called to tell him staff weren’t sure if she was going to survive the day.
“I was shocked actually, ‘cause that was the first time that I got notice that her condition was so bad,” he told CTV News Channel on Tuesday morning.
At the Eatonville Care Centre, 27 people have died of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and 53 have been confirmed to have the virus, sending ripples of panic through residents and their families.
Tomaszewski said his mother told him over the phone days ago that a few residents were coughing and that there were suspicions that some were sick.
But when staff called him last Thursday, Tomaszewski said he had no idea that anyone at the centre had been confirmed to have the virus.
The nurse practitioner told him that his mother “was at a level where they thought that she wouldn’t survive (for even) a few more hours.
“(I) ended up doing a quick Skype with her,” Tomaszewski said. “And I was horrified by her condition.”
Tomaszewski and his brothers rushed to the care home. What they found was worse than they had expected.
“She was laying in bed, panting, grasping, trying to get as much oxygen in as possible, and she had just a tube of oxygen in her — connected to her nose,” Tomaszewski said. “At that point we realized she wasn’t getting any care that she needed there. So later that evening, had her rushed to the hospital.”
Tomaszewski’s mother is currently at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., in “grave condition” and he said she is deteriorating fast.
Five minutes before he spoke with CTV News Channel, Tomaszewski had received a call from the hospital recommending he come in.
“(The nurse) actually even suggested if I’d like to come in and possibly say my final goodbyes to (my mother),” Tomaszewski said.
The speed and ferocity of the outbreak within the care home has left many family members struggling to get those crucial final moments with their loved ones.
Terrence van Dyke, whose 85-year-old father was a resident at the care home, missed a series of phone calls from the home on Friday night.
On Saturday, his father died, shortly after van Dyke finally spoke with a doctor. He never got to see his father and say goodbye.
“So I just looked at a picture of him the other day and I just apologized,” van Dyke said. “Just said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’”
Tomaszewski said the communication from the care home has been insufficient. The first official communication from the home letting him know about the extent of the outbreak was a letter sent two days ago, he said — days after he had already moved his mother to the hospital.
“And then yesterday we got another letter stating that there was 25 deaths,” he said. “So the news wasn’t — communication wasn’t all that good.”
Eatonville’s Executive Director, Evelyn MacDonald, said in a statement Tuesday that all of the residents are in self-isolation, meals are being delivered to rooms and both residents and staff are being monitored for symptoms twice a day.
They have also increased testing, and are now awaiting test results on over 70 residents, the statement said.
“From the outset we have been communicating regularly and personally with families [whose] loved ones have been impacted by COVID-19,” MacDonald said in the statement. “In the interest of being open and transparent with all of our families, over the weekend we took steps to share all of the information we have.”
MacDonald added that the care home uses a voicemail messaging system to contact families.
“We erred in the last two days in not recording a personal message as we normally do and instead sent an automated message,” she said. “We sincerely apologize for that.”
Tomaszewski’s mother tested positive for COVID-19 after she was taken to the hospital. He said that apart from a stroke “a number of years ago,” she had no underlying health condition.
“She was wheelchair-bound, but she was healthy and happy,” he said.
Tomaszewski still has one family member at the care home — his aunt, who is 97 years old, and “who, thank God, hasn’t contracted the virus yet.”
Toronto Public Health confirmed Monday that it is working with the long-term care centre to manage the outbreak.
“We are actively investigating this COVID-19 outbreak at Eatonville Long-Term Care Home and these tragic deaths, and we will report on facts related to this matter as soon as the investigations are completed,” it said in a statement.