Dear family caregivers, long-term care team members (staff), and sector partners,
March 18th marks one year since the first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak in long-term care. As we pass the one-year mark of the beginning of a pandemic-- and enter the third wave of COIVD-19-- that has had devastating impacts on long-term care home residents, families, team members, and communities I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and all that has changed.
First, from all of us at FCO, our hearts are with the residents, families, team members, and communities affected by COVID-19. The 3753 resident and 11 home staff lives lost to COVID-19 break our hearts. While we know that our grief cannot compare to that felt by the people who knew and loved these people, we are deeply saddened by the untimely—and preventable—losses.
Second, we are so appreciative of and thankful for the family caregivers who have taken care of their resident, family, community, and themselves while navigating the crisis. Your strength is incredible.
Third, to the home staff, sector leaders, and policy makers who have responded to and met the needs of families through open communication, person-centred policies, compassion, and honestly: thank you for your leadership and commitment to families.
In reflecting on our work over the past year, a few things immediately jumped to mind. While varied, they all reflect the creativity, resilience, and compassion that have been silver linings throughout the year.
FCO has long prided itself on being an agile, responsive, and person-centred organization. While the past year has challenged us, we are proud to have maintained our focus and continued to work according to our values. We quickly pivoted to providing support to individual family members navigating the long-term care system, partnering with like-minded people and organizations to create initiatives and resources to help family caregivers and homes cope with the crisis, and providing policy input to government that reflects the needs and experiences of families. That work has resulted in our virtual forums for caregivers, virtual visits and meetings toolkits, and changes to the long-term care visiting and testing policies to better meet the needs of residents and families. My team – Cathleen, Natacha, and Tiffany – have responded to the ever-changing challenges with creativity, grace, and strength. I’m lucky to have them at my (virtual) side through all of this.
We also quickly transitioned to working 100% remotely to keep our staff safe and I am grateful that the FCO board was in full support of making this decision, well before the government directed us to. We were fortunate that we were already set up to work remotely and only a few changes were needed to keep us working at 100%. With the few hiccups we’ve had along the way, I have appreciated how families and home staff have reacted with understanding and grace.
We know that many of you have appreciated how accessible the FCO team has been. At the beginning of the crisis, many caregivers told us "you're the only ones who are picking up the phone!" I’m grateful that I and my team were already set up and ready to adapt to the new way of working. And I know that caregivers who have been able to take advantage of technology for virtual visits and Council meetings would agree. Technology – when it works as we expect it to! – has been a blessing.
One of the greatest silver linings of this past year has definitely been the relationships the FCO team has developed and strengthened. At the beginning, our partners at OARC, AdvantAge Ontario, OLTCA, Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, CanAge, Ontario Caregiver Organization, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, FARFO, and the Alzheimer Society of Ontario (among so many others) gathered together as stakeholders to share information, work on shared initiatives, problem-solve issues, and support each other. These are all organizations committed to improving the LTC experience for residents, families, and staff. I’m bolstered by knowing that at any time I can pick up the phone and reach out to one of my peers for information, advice, and support. I know I couldn’t have managed this past year without them.
The Minister of Long-Term Care’s office has also been a great support throughout this time, even when my calls and emails were probing for the rationale behind decisions made or sharing caregiver concerns. A special shout out to Mason Saunders, Director of Stakeholder Relations, for being an open “door” to me and the FCO team during this time. Mason has helped me and the FCO team get the information we need to help caregivers throughout the crisis.
FCO has increasingly been called up to join research teams, participate in working groups, and engage in initiatives that will help residents, caregivers, and staff now and in the future. It's been a pleasure getting to know people at Ontario Health (Central), NIA, Baycrest, and so many others. We know that our work, supported by the thousands of caregivers we work with, will make a difference to the LTC sector as a whole. And we thank you for helping us do so.
That’s not to say that it’s all been rosy. Like you, we are living through an unprecedented time. We’re navigating the ever-changing restrictions, balancing the demands of our work, taking care of our families (including being at-home teachers to young children), tending to our emotional wellbeing, and mourning the loss of loved ones, connection, and normality. Not only are we facing a pandemic the likes of which we have seen, but we are also living through anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and Anti-Asian racist violence. The local and global acts of violence have broken our hearts, to say the least. And still, we persevere, because of you. You—family caregivers, in particular—bring joy to our hearts and meaning to our work. And we are thankful for that.
More than anything, we are so, so thankful to the families we work with. We are thankful to those who have:
- Shared their experiences with us. Your experiences help us shape our responses to the pandemic, including adapting and creating new initiatives and informing our public policy input to the government;
- Used the information and resources available on our website and online to gather information and then call us for clarification and advice;
- Participated in the Expressive Writing Workshops or our virtual forums to give and receive support and information; and
- Taken the time to reach out to us by phone and email to say thank you. I keep every single email of thanks and appreciation and share them all with my team. When I feel stressed, scared, frustrated, or saddened by the pandemic, I re-read the kind emails I have received from families and home staff. And they always warm my heart and brighten my day.
I know that we’re not out of the woods yet. We still have a long time to go before the COIVD-19 pandemic is resolved, and much longer until we heal from the trauma, my staff and I included. But, we are in this together. And we will get through it together.
Thank you to all of the families, home team members (staff), and sector leaders who have been and will continue to be by our (virtual) side as we make our way through the crisis and out the other side.
Let’s hope that March 18th, 2022 is a much brighter day and we can look back on March 18th, 2020 and 2021 having been vaccinated, able to hug our loved ones, and begun to heal from the trauma of COVID-19.
With hope for better times ahead,
FCO Executive Director