Susan Dwilow has been driving to Misericordia Health Centre each day, positioning herself on the sidewalk, craning her neck, and waving up at a third-floor window.
Behind that window, waving back, is her 101-year-old father, David Thompson — one of about 100 long-term residents isolated at the Winnipeg centre’s personal care home, Misericordia Place.
It’s not a great way of staying in touch, but it’s the best they’ve been able to manage since care homes in Manitoba were forced to suspend in-person visits to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"It’s pretty hard, and I know he’s finding it hard. Between me and my two sisters, dad had visitors every day," Dwilow, a health-care worker for 42 years, said in a post on the Misericordia Health Centre Foundation’s Facebook page.
Their waving routine has become even more challenging amid mounting pressure from public health officials for Winnipeggers to hunker down at home and self-isolate.
"Susan is used to coming to see her dad every single day," said Kris Gladwell, executive director of the foundation. "He’s a very social person and has a great personality. They have a great bond... but it’s not sustainable for her to be standing outside, waving to him.
"It’s wonderful that people are finding other ways to connect with their loved ones, but we want it to be part of their health-care plan and sustainable, because this could go on for a very long time," said Gladwell, just six weeks into her new job.
To further that goal, the foundation has launched a COVID-19 relief fund, which hopes to raise enough cash to equip the centre’s long-term residents with iPads so they can connect with loved ones using the FaceTime video-chatting app.
"They’re about $500 apiece," Gladwell said. "If we could get even 100, that would be amazing. We’re very hopeful and we’re ready. We have our IT team ready and our health professionals ready."
Misericordia has about 100 residents in its care home and another 100 living in its transitional care unit, "And we’ve just been asked to expand our beds," Gladwell said Monday. "So it will rise up to 250 long-term residents — even more pressure on our health centre."
The foundation director said getting as many tablets as possible is key to protecting the seniors from the devastating effect of being isolated.
"This is the safest thing for the residents right now, to stay connected," she said. "We do not want to have people isolated. That leads to depression and anxiety.
"They need a way to stay connected to their loved ones (during the pandemic restrictions). It’s crucial; it’s not just for fun... Some of them have cellphones, but this, we believe, is the best option."
Gladwell cited the case of a 104-year-old resident, identified only as Nell, who has received an iPad and is spending online time with family.
"Nell is amazing," Gladwell said. "She’s this bundle of joy. We just gave one to her, and she’s communicating directly with her family... It’s just incredible. She can see her loved ones and talk to them. It’s like they’re actually there."
The COVID-19 relief fund has wider goals, as well. It is also trying to raise emergency funds to support Health Links, the Misericordia-based 24-hour phone line that has been a primary source of information on the novel coronavirus for Manitobans.
"Misericordia has really been at the heart of COVID-19," Gladwell said. "We were the first ones affected because of Health Links. They have a specific COVID line."
She said the Health Links service has been overwhelmed with calls from residents seeking advice and wondering what health-care path they should follow.
"They went from having 30 phones lines to over 100 lines within a matter of days," Gladwell said. "It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have had some days more than 2,500 calls for 24 hours."
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The massive increase in demand has forced a rapid, costly expansion of the service.
"We’ve had to expand the entire (Health Links) program throughout the building and adhere to social distancing and allow for the 70-plus extra phone lines. We’ve had to hire over 100 new staff, in training, within an unprecedented short period of time. That’s just for the COVID-19."
With so many people out of work or sheltering at home amid a global pandemic, it’s a tough time to be appealing for funds, Gladwell said, but it is critical.
"We need financial support so that we can help sustain this increase in calls related to COVID-19," she said. "Health Links is really the heart of this. These are nurses on the front lines taking these calls and helping the community.
"They desperately need our support, the support of the community."
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Help the Misericordia Health Centre Foundation buy iPads for residents in long-term care and support front-line workers at the Health Links phone line by contributing to the foundation’s new COVID-19 relief fund.
Visit misericordiafoundation.com, and click the “donate now” button. Or call 204-788-8458.