Long-term care home resident sitting in chair smiling
Janette Day, resident of Chester Village long-term care home

‘It’s been our salvation’: How the COVID-19 vaccine has allowed long-term care home residents to do more of what they love

"It was like a ray of sunshine," says Cynthia Marinelli, chief executive officer of Chester Village, about the beginning of the long-term care homes COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

Chester Village was one of the first long-term care homes in Toronto to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to its residents in December 2020. Now, 99% have received both doses and the home has been able to safely resume some of its recreational programming – a long awaited milestone after over a year of public health and infection prevention and control protocols that limited interactions between residents, caregivers and families.

We started with small group programming and dining cohorts because of the safety we felt in our vaccination status,” says Cynthia. Now, we open our café for larger group programs, organize outdoor entertainment and arrange overnight visits for residents with their family members.”

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the most significant infection prevention and control measures at Chester Village meant that residents remained in their individual home areas of 29 people and visitors were limited.

The COVID-19 vaccine provided us with an opportunity to look at how we can get people out of their home areas and safely into group settings,” says Cynthia. Its been our salvation.”

This has been a positive change for residents like Janette Day, who has lived at Chester Village for two and a half years.

Its been nice to get outside and enjoy live music in the garden,” she says. We hear all different kinds of music – pop and classical are my favourite.”

Last year, one of Janettes daughters became her essential caregiver so that they could continue to see each other in-person once a week even when visitors to the home were limited.

But the biggest change is that we are allowed hugs now,” says Janette. I gave my daughter such a big hug. Its the best thing thats ever happened to me.”

Health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant health impacts, especially for older adults.

Doctor wearing a stethoscope
Dr. Jarred Rosenberg, geriatrician at Michael Garron Hospital

We aren’t just talking about the health impacts of COVID-19,” says Dr. Jarred Rosenberg, geriatrician at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH). Were talking about the physical and psycho-social impacts from a lack of exercise, cognitive stimulation and socialization.”

This can lead to worsening of cognitive impairment, physical frailty and low mood in older adults.

Thats why we always encouraged essential caregivers to visit at Chester Village,” says Cynthia. We knew how important it was for our residents to stay connected and have additional supports in place.”

As a geriatrician, Dr. Rosenberg sees patients admitted to the acute care for elders unit at MGH to help with the management of acute illness and provide function focused care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he brought his expertise to long-term care and retirement homes in East Toronto as part of MGHs COVID-19 outreach team.

Unfortunately the  physical and mental health of many long-term care residents significantly worsened during the pandemic,” says Dr. Rosenberg. We also observed this in the community with hospital visits due to falls, physical deconditioning and more responsive behaviours and caregiver strain for individuals with dementia.”

The COVID-19 vaccine: Doing more of what you love

Reopening at Chester Village was done thoughtfully and gradually, with input from infectious diseases experts and geriatricians like Dr. Rosenberg. 

There was a time where we huddled daily with Dr. Rosenberg to understand what could be done safely,” says Cynthia. It means everything to me that residents are doing more of what they love.”

Dr. Rosenberg says resuming recreational activities for seniors should be a priority in congregate living settings and in the community.

Id like to see an increased  focus on safely resuming adult day programs and other recreational programming for seniors in the same way weve focused on programming for children and youth,” he says. “COVID-19 disproportionately affected older adults and has highlighted important opportunities to improve the services and care of seniors in our community. I am hopeful that we will rise to this challenge.”

Janette is grateful that the COVID-19 vaccine has allowed her to see more of the other residents at Chester Village.

I dont know where I would I be if I didnt get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she says. Its so important; it could mean your life.”

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