'From here to the box': Seniors voice terrifying concerns on long-term care amid COVID-19

WATCH: It's a crisis the entire country is talking about. Close to 80 per cent of the deaths from COVID-19 are seniors living in long-term care. Jill Croteau begins a week-long series delving into the problems, possible solutions and anxiety from our aging population.

It’s a crisis the entire country is talking about: close to 80 per cent of Canada’s deaths from COVID-19 are seniors living in Canada’s long-term care homes.

For Heidi Horn, the worry is real. The 85-year-old has been living independently in a facility run by Calgary Heritage Housing. She’s comfortable and happy, so much so that she never plans on leaving.

“No I won’t. I won’t consider a long-term care home, not after this. No way,” Horn said.

Watching on the sidelines about the spread of infection and concerns about how residents are treated is overwhelming, she says.

“It shocks me. I worked in seniors’ places and I promised myself I am going to stay here,” Horn said.

Global News teamed up with the Institute for Investigative Journalism’s (IIJ) Project Pandemic consortium to analyze statistics on the infection rates inside these nursing homes.

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​ In the five largest Alberta continuing care outbreaks where a breakdown was available, 38 per cent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases were among workers, according to an analysis by the IIJ.

IIJ also helped uncover that ​68 homes in Alberta have at least one case of COVID-19. ​​Alberta provincial health officials don’t proactively share this data on the number of cases in each specific long-term care facility like other jurisdictions have in Quebec and Ontario.​

According to public health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, homes are only publicly identified when a number of positive cases are reported.

“It is important to remember, the outbreaks we are posting are any sites that there are two or more cases,” Hinshaw said in early April.

Alberta Health reported infections in 65 facilities, while IIJ found that three additional facilities had reported single infections on their websites.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light concerns from seniors considering their next stages. The dread of moving into a long-term care home is so intense, Louise Martin said she’d rather die.

“I want to go from here to the box. That’s it,” she said.

Martin lives in Cathedral Manor, the same facility as Horn, and is convinced it would erase her independence and silence the unfiltered voice she’s come to perfect over her last 81 years.

“You might as well shoot me. I’m being blunt here,” Martin said. “But it’s time for me to take a little pill, and I’ve made arrangements for that.”

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Kay Sallenbach, 78, is content living in her apartment in Cathedral Manor with her husband, making her own choices about schedules and meals and having no restrictions.

“I’m hoping to stay until the end,” Sallenbach said.

“The next stage from here, I would really just as soon pass away here,” Sallenbach said. “There’s not good signs of what’s happening in these nursing homes. I want my freedom still.”

Henry Tonkin knows his time is coming, too, but he has a hard time thinking about the possibility of moving from his comfortable apartment at Richmond Park Manor, another facility run by Calgary Heritage Housing, into long-term care.

Henry Tonkin in his Calgary Heritage Housing apartment.

Henry Tonkin in his Calgary Heritage Housing apartment.

Jill Croteau/Global News

“You’re more or less in a prison,” Tonkin said.

He hopes politicians are taking notice.

“I’m disgusted, as many people are,” Tonkin said. “The government, all they can see is cut, cut, cut. The ministers need to spend time in these places, not just for photo ops but go in there for a job shadow, go in there for a week and do what the military is doing and see how pleasant it is.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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