Following Cayleah: Death total reaches 27 in her long-term care home as she recovers in hospital

Family of another resident say home leaving everyone in the dark on severity of outbreak

Cayleah Larmash supplied this photo showing her fight with COVID-19.

It’s been 12 days since Cayleah Lamarsh emerged from the intensive care unit of the Michael Garron Hospital after a fight with the novel coronavirus.

“[Feels] like I survived a war,” said Lamarsh, 27, who identifies as Ojibwe and remains in hospital awaiting further tests.

APTN News has been following her situation for the last couple of months after learning she first went into a long-term care home at 24 years old after aging out of the child welfare system.

A bus collision left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Lamarsh first told APTN on May 4 she felt like a sitting duck with an outbreak in the home. She was right because less than two weeks later she was diagnosed with the virus.

She was admitted to hospital May 17 and said her condition worsened to the point of needing to be in the ICU because her fever kept rising and she had difficulty breathing. She texted APTN daily updates of her condition.

Lamarsh may have survived the virus, but many in her home have not.

There’s been 27 deaths in the Midland Gardens Care Community home since an outbreak in the long-term care home in April.

But no one would know that from looking at Sienna Senior Living’s website, a for-profit company.

Sienna Senior Living provides COVID-19 updates on outbreaks in the homes it owns, which include the number of confirmed cases among residents and staff, as well as recoveries.

What it doesn’t list is the number of people dying from the virus in the home.

Kim Cicerella found that out from Toronto Public Health for the first time on May 15.

She had been calling public health nearly every day for updates on positive cases because she wanted to hear it from the source.

So when she called on May 15 the person on the other end of the phone told her there was 67 residents diagnosed and 12 staff. But this time the person had a another number.

There had also been six deaths.

“I almost fell off my chair,” said Cicerella, whose 79-year-old mother lives in the home. “[Sienna was] letting on that they had it under control.”

Residents of Midland Gardens Care Community on March 31. Photo taken by Cayleah Lamarsh.

APTN had been regularly checking Sienna’s website and saw the numbers of cases go up, but never any deaths recorded at Midland. It also doesn’t say how many were sent to the hospital like Lamarsh.

“On May 28 I called again. Positive residents: 67 Positive staff: 22. Deaths: 15,” said Cicerella.

“I think it’s completely wrong that they are keeping the families in the dark. Not making us aware of how serious this situation is.”

The number cases, as of Monday, were 73 positive residents, 30 staff and the 27 deaths, according to public health.

Sienna also provided an update and, again, no deaths.

“My mind is boggled right now because I can’t understand how these numbers keep getting bigger when we have already been in isolation for a month?” she said.

And, yet, somehow Cicerella’s mom has not caught the virus despite it being on her floor, the sixth, the same as Lamarsh.

She worries for her mom, who she wasn’t able to speak to her for a couple of weeks until a recent video chat.

“When I speak to her on the phone she’s like ‘how much longer do I have to stay in my room?’ Really sad. I’m like ‘I don’t know, mom. It’s really bad’. I don’t want to scare her by telling her how many people are sick with it,” said Cicerella.

Or how many have passed away.

Cicerella said there was also confusion in late April and early May, when the outbreak first began, about the rules around isolation in the home.

“There was nothing consistent for a good two weeks. At the beginning they were telling us they are isolated but I would call and every shift [of staff] would tell me a different story. I would tell my sister, ‘just letting you know mom is not able to use the phone, there’s no contact now’ and my sister would call that afternoon to a different shift and they would go get my mom and bring her out to the phone,” she said.

Cicerella said she works in a long-term care home as a nurses admin and when she calls Midland staff tell her they are overwhelmed and that it feels “chaotic”.

She just worries about her mom.

“It’s really scary,” she said.

Sienna hasn’t responded to questions from APTN.

As high as the number is at Midland, the virus has hit other homes harder. Orchard Villa in Pickering has 70 deaths, while Madonna Care Community in Ottawa has 45, and is also owned by Sienna Senior Living.

A complete list of the deaths can be found on the Ontario government’s website here.

Meanwhile, Lamarsh said she’s been told she has to remain in hospital until the outbreak at Midland is over.

But that means she can’t leave her hospital bed.

“I cannot have my wheelchair in the hospital,” she said. “They’re saying it can’t come because it can’t be wiped down.”

Producer Nation to Nation - Ottawa

Kenneth is a journalist with nearly two decades of reporting experience who focuses on crime and social issues, including child welfare and wrongful convictions. He has worked out of APTN’s Ottawa bureau since October 2012.