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Woman scared for brother in Calgary long-term care home with COVID-19 deaths


CALGARY — A woman says she's terrified for her brother who has a severe mental disability and is living in a Calgary long-term care home where there's a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.  

Julie Nimmo's brother, Jesse Middleton, is a resident at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre. As of Friday, 52 residents and 36 staff members there had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Of Alberta's two dozen COVID-19 deaths, 11 have been at the McKenzie Towne home. 

"It's a beyond-horrible situation. There's no words to describe it," Nimmo said Monday.

"It seems like it's going to get significantly worse over the next couple of weeks."

She said her brother is 50 years old, but has the mental capacity of a three-year old and has been staying in a dementia unit since October.

Middleton was tested for COVID-19 on March 25. The result was expected the next day, and the plan was to move him quickly into Nimmo's home if it was negative. At the time, there were no COVID-19 cases in his unit.

"We were literally holding our breath, absolutely terrified," Nimmo said.

But she didn't hear about Middleton's negative result until March 28, and she couldn't guarantee that he hadn't been exposed to the virus since the test. She was told dementia unit residents could not be confined in their rooms.

Nimmo said she was informed her brother got into a dispute with another resident over the weekend and was moved to a different unit where it was later revealed someone had COVID-19. She was told her brother did not come into contact with the person who was infected, but she is nonetheless scared.

"Common sense would say don't move residents from unit to unit at all."

Nimmo, who has been Middleton's legal guardian since she was 18, said she has now instructed the home not to move her brother.

And she is holding her breath once again, hoping he doesn't show symptoms in the next 10 to 14 days.

Protocols for other residents, such as instructing them to avoid touching their faces, stay in their rooms and frequently wash their hands, just don't work for people with dementia and other cognitive issues, Nimmo said.

"That's why they're in long-term care — to have somebody else step in and help protect them," she said.

"You can't do anything to help them. All you can do is sit and wait and pray." 

Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer at care home operator Revera, has said that families are being updated regularly by email and phone. Anyone who is in isolation or has had a change in condition is a priority.

Staffing levels that had been reduced by mandatory isolation have now stabilized, she said in a statement Friday.

"We know this is a very frightening time for anyone who has a family member living at McKenzie Towne. We are singularly focused on doing everything we can to contain this outbreak," Collins said. 

"We are working closely with Alberta Health Service's public health experts to implement and comply with their directives, and we are very grateful for the clinical nursing resources and infection control experts they are providing to us."

Nimmo said her brother doesn't understand the situation, which is in some ways a blessing.

"He does know that it's not normal."

She added that her concerns are about the home's corporate leadership, not the front-line staff. 

"They are tremendous. They are under incredible stress as well," she said. "They are taking this home to their families potentially, and I so admire all their devotion and care that they're giving."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press