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An elderly woman reads a book at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, March 9, 2020. Some families may have the capacity to care for elderly parents and grandparents while they work from home during the pandemic, but not when they return to the office.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Wayne Wilson and his siblings were already considering taking their 84-year-old mother out of her nursing home to protect her from the coronavirus when they received news that forced them to make a decision.

On Wednesday, the administrator of Kipling Acres, the Toronto long-term care home where Shirley Wilson lives, told the family a case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in a resident.

The e-mail persuaded Mr. Wilson to bring his mother, who has early-stage dementia, home to live with him until the outbreak at Kipling Acres is over.

“I think anybody who does have a loved one in [a nursing home], and is able to provide the care for a period of time now that they’re at home, should be taking them out,” Mr. Wilson said on Friday, as he was preparing to pick his mother up.

Mr. Wilson and his siblings agonized over the decision because the administrator of Kipling Acres told them Mrs. Wilson would have to go back on their region’s waiting list if she hoped to return at the end of the outbreak – even though the family is prepared to keep paying for her room while she is away.

The Wilson family’s dilemma is similar to that of countless other Canadians who have watched as the new coronavirus has cut a frightening swath through long-term care homes.

More than half of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been among residents of seniors’ homes, according to Theresa Tam, the country’s Chief Public Health Officer.

Twenty residents of a single nursing home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., have died of the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus as of Friday.

“Families should be worried right now," said Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network, both in Toronto. "I don’t think we’ve been doing everything possible to support the residents and their safety.”

Dr. Sinha said earlier this week that families who are capable of caring for their elderly loved ones at home should consider taking them out of nursing homes. But he said on Friday that he was encouraged by some of the steps the Ontario government is taking to make homes safer.

“My comments were really to make sure we have a call to action,” Dr. Sinha said.

Removing a loved one from long-term care is not easy, he said.

Some families may have the capacity to care for elderly parents and grandparents while they work from home during the pandemic, but not when they return to the office. Others may not have a choice because the medical needs of their relatives can’t be managed at home.

“Residents who are in long-term care are not there because they choose to be. They are there because they need to be,” said Donna Duncan, chief executive officer of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents non-profit and for-profit facilities in the province.

“What we don’t want to see is family members taking their loved one out of the home, transporting them home and then having those residents actually end up in hospital," she said.

British Columbia seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie echoed that, saying many seniors now living in long-term care have complex health conditions that could overwhelm family caregivers.

Mr. Wilson said he feels fortunate that his mother’s needs are not too great for him to handle, now that he is home to watch her all day.

But he is hoping Kipling Acres, a home owned by the City of Toronto, will relent and allow his mother to return when the outbreak is over, without forcing her to wait in the queue.

Neither Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Care, nor the City of Toronto, were able to answer questions before press time about whether Kipling Acres is following proper policy for residents who want to take an extended leave.

However, the Ontario Long Term Care Association said it believed that the law in Ontario does allow residents to keep their beds during a leave of absence, so long as they continue to pay.

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