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Major Robb Kerr of The Salvation Army walks past the Meighen Manor Health Centre in Toronto, where multiple people have died and tested positive for COVID-19, on April 20, 2020.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

When Sybil Dinsdale died at her Toronto nursing home in the middle of the night, her daughter Judy cradled her and sobbed. After about an hour, when Judy went to report her death, she found only an empty nurse’s station.

Despite repeatedly ringing the call button and looking for staff on her mother’s wing of the Isabel and Arthur Meighen Manor early on April 25, it wasn’t until four hours later when the day shift arrived that Judy Dinsdale finally found a worker. But it was the nurse’s first time at the facility and she had to track down someone who knew what to do.

That took more time, and Ms. Dinsdale said one of the workers who eventually came to her mother’s room told her someone would bring a body bag and asked if she wanted to put her inside.

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By then, it was mid-morning and the nursing home still hadn’t dealt with her 98-year-old mother’s body.

“I very much felt abandoned,” Ms. Dinsdale said, adding she left after being asked about the body bag. “I just felt disrespected and … it’d been over eight hours and she’s still lying there."

As nursing homes grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, families say staff shortages mean their loved ones aren’t getting the care they need.

Inadequate staffing at Meighen Manor has resulted in traumatic experiences for patients and their loved ones, Ms. Dinsdale and three other families of residents say in a letter of complaint sent late last week to the Salvation Army, which operates the nursing home, and the Ontario government. Thirty-seven residents of the facility have died and 46 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The letter alleges that residents’ cries for food and water have gone unheeded for hours, that those who need help eating are not receiving it, that patients have been left in soiled diapers and that some residents have been unnecessarily confined to their beds for days, rather than being helped up and dressed. The letter also mentions Ms. Dinsdale’s experience waiting hours for staff.

The Salvation Army takes the families’ allegations seriously, said spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Murray.

“We are committed to ensuring our residents receive the care they require during this time and our remaining staff are working very hard to see this through,” he said in an e-mail, adding that he could not address individual resident’s cases for privacy reasons.

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The nursing home has brought in extra staff from the Salvation Army, nearby Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, Lt.-Col. Murray said.

Gillian Sloggett, a spokeswoman for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, said the ministry and facility “will be conducting a staffing review to ensure a more proactive approach is in place going forward.”

Some families are so concerned about their relatives at Meighen Manor that they have installed tablets with video links in their rooms so they can monitor their care.

The family of 105-year-old Teresa Brown, who is blind, hard of hearing and bedridden, watched helplessly over Skype as she called out for water one day last week for an hour-and-a-half, said her granddaughter Ella Soper. Her family has also signed the complaint letter.

“I’ve never felt so hopeless in my life,” Ms. Soper said.

Ms. Brown’s family members, who take turns watching over her for 18 hours a day, use the video connection to speak with her as well as to staff in her room. Ms. Soper said she has seen a worker bring her soup but fail to open the container and give it to her so she could eat. She has also noticed staff came into her room without changing their gloves.

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Ms. Brown, who is also Brampton, Ont., Mayor Patrick Brown’s grandmother, tested negative for COVID-19 about two weeks ago but recently came down with a cough. She refused another test.

“It’s awful and I really despair that there will have been 100-per-cent exposure among the residents … and I don’t know who’s going to make it out alive,” Ms. Soper said.

As a result, Ms. Brown’s family is planning both a celebration for her 106th birthday later this month as well as a possible funeral.

“We just don’t know which it’s going to be,” Ms. Soper said. “You have to exist in both realities in the same time.”

For her part, Judy Dinsdale is now in isolation at home because she learned that her 98-year-old mother, a former farmer and homemaker, had tested positive for COVID-19 after she died. She is grateful she was allowed to be with her during her final moments but remains troubled by what happened afterwards.

“I do worry about the ones still there, still alive,” she said.

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With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto

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