Coronavirus: Heartbroken brothers reflect as parents die 9 days apart at Toronto nursing home

When brothers Rod and Greg McVeigh began writing an obituary for their 77-year-old mother Joan McVeigh, they never imagined they would be including their father Joseph in the same death announcement.

Nine days after their mother died from complications associated with COVID-19 at Seven Oaks Long-Term Care home on April 7, their 77-year-old dad — a retired Toronto police detective — died suddenly.

“‘This shouldn’t have happened to your mother. It isn’t right,’” Greg recalled his devastated father saying after he watched Joan’s virtual funeral on April 8 from his room in the Scarborough long-term-care home where the couple had lived in adjoining rooms connected with a communal bathroom.

“He was crying and said, ‘I miss your mother. I miss her so much. I need to find a way to go on.’”

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Greg said he and his brother were hopeful their father had not caught the virus, but they were not sure. They said they emailed staff at the facility to ask to have their father tested and the results came back negative.

Then he suddenly passed away from a heart attack. It’s only after the post-mortem that they found out that Joseph had contracted COVID-19.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was just surreal,” said Rod.

READ MORE: Son of resident at Toronto nursing home dealing with coronavirus outbreak asks for military support

Greg said they didn’t anticipate what happened.

“They had dementia, but they knew who we were and they had each other. They’d watch movies together, they had their coffee and cookies together, and my mom moved around quite well — they were both quite happy,” said Greg.

The McVeigh brothers had been reading about the coronavirus outbreak in Europe and thought if it came here officials would be prepared.

Greg said he wrote an email to the senior administrator of the home on March 11 and asked what precautions were being taken. He said he never received a direct response.

READ MORE: Families of Toronto nursing home residents feeling anxiety, grief and gratitude

Just over a week later, on March 19, the brothers learned through media reports that a resident at the Seven Oaks Long-term Care Home had tested positive for COVID-19.

The home had already shut its doors to all but essential visitors on March 14 — the same day as the couple’s 56th wedding anniversary.

“I contacted the City of Toronto through the mayor, John Tory. I contacted several politicians via email and Instagram,” said Greg.

“I took articles from the Centre of Disease Control showing that people in nursing homes should not be in communal dining and I sent it and tried to communicate it with them (Seven Oaks) to get my mom to not be in the dining hall and to be isolated.

READ MORE: Death toll rises to 22 at Scarborough long-term care home

“I also called Seven Oaks and said, ‘Can you please separate my mom and not have her in the dining hall?’ and asked why they were still doing that.”

Greg explained the home responded by telling him that the resident who had tested positive for COVID-19 was on the third floor, not on his parents’ floor.

He said it was only about five days later when COVID-19 had spread to his parents’ floor and his mom was infected that things began to change.

Greg said he is concerned that early in the outbreak staff at the facility may not have been wearing proper personal protective equipment. Also, it was not until April 14 that staff at long-term care homes in Ontario were banned from working in more than one residence.

“I think some sort of an investigation or a public inquiry would certainly find out all of that information. We are really lost for all the things that possibly went wrong — probably more than I can think of,” he said.

Thirty-five residents at Seven Oaks have died due to complications from COVID-19 and another 72 residents have tested positive for the virus at Seven Oaks, according to figures provided by officials. Also, 25 staff members are sick.

When asked about the situation, Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, told Global News in a statement Monday evening that the outbreak at Seven Oaks was declared on March 19 after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed.

READ MORE: 8 more dead from COVID-19 at Toronto nursing home, 101 confirmed and probable cases

She said several measures were put into place shortly after, such as signage, restricting staff from working at more than one facility, the wearing of PPE by staff, testing all staff and residents on an affected floor, screening of staff twice a day, restricting admissions and visitors and increasing cleaning.

Peter Puiatti, the administrator at Seven Oaks Long-term Care Home, said when it comes to taking measures like banning communal dining, staff try to find a balance between infection prevention controls and preserving daily life for residents.

“COVID-19 outbreaks have been successfully limited to one floor or unit in many long-term care homes. This has been achieved through measures such as keeping all residents on their own floor/unit, and having staff work on one floor/unit only, to reduce the chance of spread to other floors or units,” he wrote in a statement to Global News Monday evening, adding residents on an affected floor in isolation for a minimum of 14 days.

“Implementing these measures on floors where there are no cases of COVID-19 has to balance the effectiveness of this measure compared to the major impact on residents’ general conditioning and mental health.”

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Meanwhile, the McVeigh brothers said they are at peace knowing their parents are together again but believe their lives were unnecessarily cut short by a lack of pandemic planning.

“I knew an area like Seven Oaks or a long-term care home could be somewhere that could be quite hazardous for somebody living there, so I would imagine that they would have taken all reasonable precautions possible to keep those residents safe,” said Greg.

Rod added he hopes their deaths won’t be in vain and that the government learns from its mistakes.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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