The D'Antonio family's grief is all consuming, and so too is the distress of knowing how their mother contracted COVID-19 at Heritage Lodge, a long-term care facility that was entrusted to keep her safe.
Maria D'Antonio tested positive in late September and died on Oct. 8. The mother of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of four turned 88 years old on June 15, celebrating the occasion with a few loved ones in mid-August at the personal care home on Portage Avenue, operated by Quebec-based Revera.
Her eldest son, Tino D'Antonio, says he cherishes that visit, the last moments by his beautiful, spirited Italian-born mother's side.
"It’s so surreal. I'm at a loss," D'Antonio said by telephone from his home in Vancouver. "When I saw her in August, she was fine. She looked fantastic. Anyone you talk to, no one thought she was 88. (In September) I got video messages of her when people were allowed to visit her. She always had lots to say to me and my kids.
"Absolutely, something fell through the cracks. There’s no question in our minds something went terribly wrong internally there."
His sister, Winnipeg resident Pietra Kroeker, said the explanation she received from Heritage Lodge on Monday was her mom likely had "minimal contact with a person that was infected with COVID."
That's less information than Kroeker got weeks before, when a nurse told her the person infected was a new resident and came from a hospital that was in the green zone, and "the person did not need to quarantine."
"I told them, 'They should be quarantining to protect the other residents,'" Kroeker said Wednesday. "The system failed not just my mother but other residents there, because others have gotten sick and have passed away."
"When I saw her in August, she was fine. She looked fantastic. Anyone you talk to, no one thought she was 88." – Son Tino D'Antonio
In an email statement Wednesday, a Revera spokesman said the Heritage outbreak began after a resident was transferred from hospital to the facility and tested positive for the virus. Since the outbreak, admissions of new residents have been halted.
Maria experienced severe breathing problems on Sept. 30 and, at the family's insistence, was taken by ambulance to Grace Hospital for emergency care. She was stabilized and taken back to the care home. The next day, her breathing issues worsened and she became non-responsive and was taken back to Grace.
She was diagnosed with the virus on Oct. 1.
Kroeker said the family wasn't told their mom had been tested on Sept. 29 for COVID-19.
"They managed to stabilize her and get her vital signs all running, they put her on oxygen and gave her fluids. And they said she was stable but critical condition. They also said that they thought Heritage had sent her, and I said, 'No, I had her sent to (Grace) and the ER nurse said it was the right decision and my mom had a good advocate that stood up for her,'" said Kroeker.
A week later, Maria died alone in hospital.
"I wasn't allowed to see her because she had COVID. Finally, the day she passed and I got to see, we had all the PPE on and went into the room," said Kroeker.
Heritage Lodge, one of several Winnipeg care facilities operated by Revera, had its first reported case of coronavirus on Sept. 24 and moved to outbreak status two days later when the number of residents infected grew to five.
On Oct. 4, a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions was the first resident of Heritage Lodge to die of COVID-19, and it's believed Maria D'Antonio was the second.
Heritage has recorded four COVID-19 deaths (all residents) and 21 positive tests (15 residents, six staff), a Revera spokesman said Wednesday. Currently, there is one active resident case and one active employee case.
Kroeker questions the level of care her mother and other Manitoba seniors receive at long-term care homes.
"I'm not blaming Heritage, but our health system has failed our seniors. These people have paid their dues to our society and I feel that they are easily written off in the end," she said.
"I'm not blaming Heritage, but our health system has failed our seniors. These people have paid their dues to our society and I feel that they are easily written off in the end." – Daughter Pietra Kroeker
Inside the locked-down facility, Francesca Patane isn't even aware her longtime friend has died. She and Maria had shared a bond since they immigrated to Canada from the Italian island of Sicily in the late 1950s.
"I haven't even told her about Maria yet. She'll be crushed," said her daughter, who asked that her name not be used. "We got some really bad news from Italy and I had to tell my mother on a video call that someone had passed away. It wasn't me hugging my mom, it was a recreation worker. That's where we're at.
"We have to be careful how much we can tell her all at once. I have to let her get used to this other bad news and then I'll tell her about Maria. It's so tough."
Patane, 82, reluctantly moved to Heritage in early September.
"That was one of the big reasons I was able to lessen her concerns about going into (a personal care home). I said, 'Maria's going to be there. You'll have your friend,'" said her daughter. "When my mother came to Canada, they lived together in a rooming home back then, and it was just was so fitting that in their end days they would live together again.
"This gawd-awful pandemic has taken away so much from so many of us. I wish people would just put their masks on."
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