When Cayleah Lamarsh escaped her long-term care home last week, several workers clad in yellow protective gear chased her down and stopped her in the middle of the street.
They wouldn’t let her move by standing in front of her electric wheelchair on July 16 just before 9 p.m.
Lamarsh, 27, hollered at them to leave her alone but the workers refused and ultimately called Toronto police to force her back in Midland Gardens Care Community home owned by Sienna Senior Living.
This was captured on a 30-minute audio recording, which was reviewed by APTN News.
Lamarsh keeps telling the workers she wants to buy cigarettes at the nearby gas station.
“Can you get out of the way,” demands Lamarsh, who is non-status, identifying as Ojibwe, like her late mother.
But the workers refuse.
“I have rights to go to the store,” says Lamarsh
“You’re going to get us into trouble. You can’t go out. Please stop,” says one female worker.
One worker asks Lamarsh why she thinks she has the right go outside during a pandemic.
“The Canadian charter of fucking rights, bitch,” Lamarsh snaps back.
It sounds like she keeps trying to go, but is stopped by workers.
She keeps getting more upset as they refuse to let her go and she demands they stop putting her chair in neutral.
“We’re calling the cops to get you back inside,” replies a female worker.
Another says: “How did you ever get out here?”
A police officer arrives minutes later who offers to accompany Lamarsh to the store where she buys two packs of “Pall Mall blue” and a lighter.
Lamarsh smokes a cigarette before going back to her room.
She may only be 27, but Lamarsh has lived in a long-term care home for several years after growing up in the child welfare system. A freak accident on a Toronto bus left her immobile from the waste down. Because of her condition the only place for her was a nursing home, which APTN first reported back in early May.
Her lawyer, Jane Meadus of Advocacy Centre for Seniors, wrote Sienna’s lawyer reminding the company Lamarsh isn’t a prisoner.
“Ms Lamarsh is an adult and entitled to the same rights as any other adult in Canada. This includes the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned,” wrote Meadus in the July 17 letter.
“We demand that Midland Garden immediately cease preventing Ms Lamarsh from leaving the long-term care home. Ms Lamarsh understands that she will be required to abide by social distancing and mask requirements when outside the home, and will take precautions such as frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer as necessary.”
Meadus wrote that staff “broke her mask and pushed her wheelchair and moved the controls”.
Sienna responded to questions from APTN over two days.
First a spokesperson said it was following “directive 3” by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
“The Directive provides that long-term care homes must not permit residents to leave the home for short-stay absences. Residents who wish to go outside of the home must be told to remain on the home’s property and maintain safe physical distancing,” wrote spokesperson Swaraj Mann.
Meadus said in her letter the directive doesn’t mean residents can be detained.
“While the Directive may require the health provider to take certain steps, it cannot authorize them to detain anyone. This is not a power that can be delegated in a directive,” she said.
“Ms Lamarsh does not have COVID-19: she previously had COVID-19, has recovered, and tested negative. Ms Lamarsh did request another test, but was advised by the infection specialist at Midland Gardens that because she has already recovered she is immune and will not contract the disease, therefore she cannot be infectious. She has been back at the home for over a month and isolated in her room, so in any event has met any isolation restrictions.”
Lamarsh contracted the virus inside the home in May and had to be hospitalized for over a week, including a couple days in the intensive care unit.
After sending their first statement, Sienna later asked to clarify parts of it.
“I wanted to provide some further context, namely, that the matter with this resident is still under investigation,” wrote Natalie Gokchenian, director of communications and stakeholder relations.
“I also wanted to clarify that our reference to Directive #3 [the provincial directive] was not to suggest that this was a basis for the detention of any resident. This information was included in our statement to emphasize safety by preventing the spread of infection, and not related to the police being called in this matter. Finally, I wanted to confirm that we have no information that any resident was detained by Midland Gardens staff, as you’d suggested in your query.”
Lamarsh said she, like other residents, have been confined to their room for months.
“We are literally prisoners in our ‘own homes’,” she said. “We have been off outbreak since the (July 17) but we are still isolated in our rooms and no visitors.”
Up until last week, an outbreak in the home killed 42 residents.
Lamarsh said she was trying to get off the busy road so she wouldn’t get hit but workers prevented her from doing so until police arrived.
Lamarsh had quit smoking for months.
Stress is one reason why she started gain.
The other is that smokers get to go outside.