‘Never felt this level of stress’: Geriatric doctor on the virus’ spread, treating COVID-19

TORONTO — A Toronto hospital doctor who specializes in treating the elderly says that the rising death toll in an Ontario long-term care facility exposes how COVID-19 can “spread like wildfire,” in these facilities.

Pinecrest Nursing Home, a facility in Bobcaygeon, Ont., has become a hotbed of COVID-19, with the death toll climbing to 23 as of Sunday evening.

Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, opened up to CTV News Channel about how troubling the situation with long-term care facilities is, and how it has been affecting him and other health-care workers.

The nursing home is “one of these older homes that the Ministry of Long-Term Care in Ontario has been looking to redevelop for a while,” Sinha said.

He said that Pinecrest has areas where four people are living in one room.

“It’s an older facility, so it’s smaller and more cramped,” Sinha said. “And those are some of the things that make it difficult to isolate people.”

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been some of the places hardest hit by the novel coronavirus. According to Ontario’s Ministry of Health, there are currently 44 outbreaks in those facilities across the province, with more than 50 confirmed deaths.

Sinha said that these outbreaks in Canada, and in similar facilities in the U.S., have taught officials “how quickly this can spread.

“We should be masking everybody working in a long-term care home, we should be more aggressively testing people, and we need to really do our best, because we can see what the consequences can be when COVID spreads through.”

Sinha said that the staff at Pinecrest did nothing wrong — they are simply facing an extreme situation. Once COVID-19 enters a facility, it can be hard to stop it.

“There are over 600 homes across Canada, hundreds of homes in the United States,” Sinha said. “And that’s why we have to do our best to prevent it from getting in in the first place.”

‘THIS PERSONALLY HITS ME’

The impact of these outbreaks are being felt not only by the residents of long-term care homes and elderly people outside of these homes, but by the workers and doctors attempting to care for them.

Sinha is a geriatrician. He may not work in a long-term care facility himself, but all of his patients fall into the category of “high-risk” when it comes to COVID-19.

“As a person who specializes in the care of older adults, this personally hits me, and professionally hits me, quite hard,” Sinha said. “Every one of my patients has a much higher risk of dying than the average population.”

He said that he and his colleagues are “scared” and what makes him even more scared is the thought of Canadians not taking this pandemic seriously.

“We know that not every Canadian is practicing the physical distancing that our prime minister and all of our health officials (have asked for),” Sinha said. “Right now, this is really the calm before the storm. If people think that what we’ve been doing so far is painful, and the deaths we’ve seen so far are really it, no.”

He wants the public to know that “this is not a drill.

“We know that the numbers are showing that in two weeks, our hospitals will be full,” he said. “We know that thousands of Canadians will die. And I’m not saying could die, I’m saying will die.

“And all of us as health-care professionals, we know that us at the frontlines are putting our lives at risk. We are prepared to do so, and I don’t say that glibly.”

DOCTORS FEELING THE STRAIN

He said people ask him how he is all the time, and he’s unsure of how to respond. He’s working “double days now,” he says. On top of his regular patient check-ups — most of which are done virtually in order to protect them — he has been doing work with the provincial and federal governments in order to figure out how to better care for seniors during this crisis.

Sinha says his work days go until midnight. He forgets to eat, frequently, and has lost weight.

“Are we scared? Absolutely,” he said. “Is this stressful? Oh my god, I have never felt this level of stress in my life. And we’re willing to do this and we’re willing to stand strong, but it’s harder to stand strong when you don’t know that every other Canadian has your back.

“I don’t want anybody saying: ‘I wish I had done something differently two weeks ago,’” he added, reiterating that Canadians need to take physical distancing seriously.

He knows that some Canadians are standing in support, however.

On Saturday, Sinha tweeted a photo of the Hilton Toronto with different rooms lit up to form a heart with an “H” in the middle on the building’s facade. Sinha added a comment saying that he’d seen the grand gesture while driving home after an 18-hour day at the hospital.

“I stopped the car and wept last night,” he wrote, in all caps.

Growing choked up just remembering it, he told CTV News that he felt like: “Oh my god, people are just sending an act of love.

“It was just saying thank you, and it’s not for me, it’s for all of us.”

He said those little symbols and actions matter, like the now-daily chorus of cheers that echo from balconies and homes downtown around 7:30 every night in honour of health-care workers.

He heard that chorus of sound and solidarity the other day, he said, and “it told me that those people care and they’re out there and they care for us on the front lines.”

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