On Saturday, Shelley Christopherson said she got to spend 15 minutes with her mother before she passed away early Sunday morning.
“I sang her the songs she used to sing to us when we were children and I played her Willie Nelson songs and I told her that she would be ok to leave, that I would be ok,” Christopherson said.
Her mother, Beth Sutherby, was a resident at Regina’s Parkside Extendicare. The 94-year-old contracted COVID-19 in what is the largest outbreak at a Saskatchewan long-term care facility.
“Her roommate had it so they strongly suspected that she had it as well,” Christopherson said.
On Friday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority confirmed that as of 3:00 p.m., 18 residents had died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The SHA also confirmed that as of Friday there are 112 active COVID-19 cases among residents and 75 active cases of COVID-19 among staff.
During their final goodbye, Christopherson said she had a choice. She could spend 15 minutes holding her mother and touching her through protective gear which included a gown, face shield and mask.
Or she could keep her distance at the end of her mother’s bed and spend as much time as she needed. Ultimately, Christopherson said she set a timer and decided to stay by her side.
“That was a hard decision and I think it has to be a hard one for everybody who is having to make that choice,” Christopherson said.
“That was the best 15 minutes of my life… I was able to do so many things with her and say goodbye in a proper way.”
While Christopherson said her mother received excellent care from the staff, she blames the government for allowing visitors inside long-term care homes around Thanksgiving.
“I think that was done in error,” Christopherson said.
As cases started to climb after Thanksgiving, visitor restrictions were put in place, except for compassionate reasons in November.
Since the outbreak, the province announced plans to ramp up testing in long-term care facilities, which some say should have come sooner.
“That initiative is starting now because now is when our risk levels are higher,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer.
“Our cases were low until the beginning of November, they were so low that even if we put in place bi-weekly testing for example, our test positive rates were less than one per cent.”
Barbara Cape, the president of SEIU West, a union that represents thousands of Saskatchewan health care workers, called the increased testing positive, as long-term care facilities in Saskatchewan see a spike of outbreaks.
“We may have staff who are walking in the door who are asymptomatic, they feel fine, they’re not exhibiting any symptoms, they have no reason to think they’ve been exposed and so that is a vector for the virus to come into long-term care facilities,” Cape said.
“If you had that regular testing I think it would clamp down on the number of long-term care facilities is in outbreaks. But we have to keep in mind, it’s not just the testing it’s getting the results and having lab staff provide the results after the testing is done. Quite frankly we don’t have enough of those folks to get that done in a timely manner.”
At the end of the day, Christopherson said it comes down to following public health orders.
“This is a deadly disease and it kills and it kills fast, so don’t underestimate it and believe what’s going on,” Christopherson said.
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