Black Lives matter in Halifax

On a warm, sunny evening on June 01, Halifax added its voice to international protest against police brutality toward Black people. In the US mainly, as the protest were sparked by heinous execution of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, but sadly also here. Halifax is the next main Canadian city to organize such protest, after clashes day earlier in Montreal, peaceful protests in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

For many reason Halifax is perhaps the most important for such protest in Canada. Nova Scotia is, after all, the true home of Canadian Black settlement. Going all the way to the end of XVIII and beginning of XIX century. And to long years of racist attitudes toward the community.  Nova Scotian’s of African descent created here vibrant life and amazing connection to the land. ( I have written here, on this blog, about their history on January 29, 2020, if you would like to know more about that fascinating subject. The two-piece essay in mainly in Polish, but with an extensive English summary and many photographs)

They have, particularly in Halifax, their own share of grievances against local municipal Police Force and their racist attitude. It led a year ago to an appointment of new Police Chief from  outside of Nova Scotia and promise of new policies.

But today it was different. It was hopeful, angry at times perhaps but generally uplifting. Yes, under the main theme “Black people’s lives matter’. And it matters because Black people lives are rich and beautiful. Because their lives are part of our lives. Because they are PEOPLE. Like you and me.  And we, white folks, are awakening to that single, powerful truth. That a mother or father should never fear that the worst that might happen to their child could be an encounter with Police officer. They should never train them how to react, how to be at their utmost best and polite to a fault when talking to a policeman.  Or they might not survive that encounter. And it is still a reality to them.  Old habits and way of doing things die hard. But, by God! die they must and the sooner the better for all of us.

As you will notice on the photographs I have taken today – a majority of folks taking part in this beautiful protest were not Black but white and other colours. That speaks volumes. Good volumes. The change is here.  Let her come and welcome with open arms. Just about time.

Military Report

In North Vancouver, in Lynn Valley  Seniors Care facility we heard it first. First sample of what was going to come. Covid-19 infections among staff and residents. Later came other Homes like that. In Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec.  Vancouver was first, before the epidemic spread all over Canada. We were still innocent, still reading about faraway places. Life was to a large extend normal. Comparing to today—life was as nothing was happening. We were still innocent … .

The text above was the beginning of my first article on this subject. I published it here two months ago, exactly on April 2. Later, I wrote two more articles on this subject. It makes this one a fourth one.  I knew that I was going to continue this particular series, but I also hoped that by now I would be writing how the provinces and premiers assumed their responsibility and culpability. What instant steps they have taken and when will they start a serious process of assessment and formal inquires not only of what happened, but first of all why it was such a tragically spectacular failure. And how will they proceed with serious overhaul of Long Term Care Centres for Seniors (LTC). None of it happen. Even after the calls for inquires and commissions grew louder.  After they were forced by the sheer examples of  tragic deaths in their own provinces, under their own responsibility and charge. No.  They couldn’t even utter: I am, as premier of this province, very sorry that I have failed you in this matter.

Being premier of province doesn’t mean that you can only play the role of a solemn hero, of a stern father, who reminds the residents of their responsibility in difficult times. A father, who is even forced at times to chastised the residents, who don’t play by the rules. Out of care. It is a role they do have to play. But that’s not the only one. A pandemic and good governance is a very long play. There are many stories to be told in that play. One of them is called fortitude and solemnity in accepting, on behalf of the province, a responsibility of the mistakes. Even if there were many previous fathers of such mistakes.  But you are the “father’ now, you are the premier and you have to take the blame. And bow. That’s how a leader acts. What all the premiers did, was paying the role of consoler and politician. Not the leader. Not on this file. This tragically avoidable file. One that will haunt as for years to come.

It was the leadership of the Armed Forces to force the issue to the front. To make sure that it couldn’t be dressed in nuances, shadows and colours that would hide the obvious fact: the failure of the system. They have planted that ticking bomb called Army Report and made sure that the existence of the Report was leaked to the media in advance. That now no one, in any government provincial or federal , would dare to call it ‘stories’, ‘situations’, perhaps a hearsay of some witnesses. No. Now these are official facts. Prepared by trusted and respected by the nation institution of our Army. Trusted much higher than any political government of any political stripe. The same army the premiers of Quebec and Ontario called to help them run the awful places being called LTC. The same Army that went and did the dirty job.   As they would in any other , military battle. And, as in a traditional battle, they did risked their lives. Many of them got infected and are sick now. O hope  they will fully recover. In their cases I wouldn’t call it even ,infected soldiers’. I would call it ‘wounded soldier’. Wounded, because political masters sent them to fight a war, that was badly planned, with bad strategy. But good officers, while accepting the order and doing the fighting are sometime also very smart. And they outsmarted the masters. They outsmarted them with the Military Report on LTC. What every single one government Agency and government leaders failed to do – they did.  Now the milk is spilled. And the governments, the leaders have to clean it up.  Or resign. No, this is not too strong a wording or demand. We are taking about thousands of lives lost. Not only because Covid and coronavirus.  We will never know how many would have died (some – certainly) if the Centres were run properly, properly prepared for this and many other epidemics.  If there was proper, stringent oversight.  If the owners cared.  And if the governments wanted to see.

I write these words shaken to the core. I knew these people. Walked with them, chatted with them, consoled them, danced with some of them, sung old songs with them.  For many years, because they were friends of my Mom, who spent years in such a Home. They were wonderful.  Sometime like children. Sometime like the wisest of the wise.  People, who lived and huge majority of them wanted to live. Who knew, when bad things were happening to them. Who fiercely tried to protect their limited independence and protested even stronger, when their dignity was being assaulted.  Each and every one of them had their story. Unique. Often amazing.

My Mom during her last visit to Poland, in her old apartment

For their memory and memory of my Dear Friend, my Mom, who has showed an amazing heroism in her fierce battle and sometime difficult acceptance of  dementia and Alzheimer. I promise you, that you all were important to us. And I will do my utmost to not let this story to die, to be forgotten.  And will not let any premier or prime minister to forget it, either.

Natural Gallery of Art

by Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski (text in Polish, followed by English version; all pictures by author)

Kto z nas chodząc po górach nie zachwycał się kształtem niektórych grani, szczytów, skalnych nawisów? Inaczej patrzy się na panoramę Tatr z przełęczy na Krzyżnem podziwiając krajobrazowy widnokrąg tatrzański, a inaczej z bliska jego skalne detale. Widzimy wówczas głowy, paszcze, jakieś potwory, kły – wszystko, czego wyobraźnia zapragnie. Jak dziecko spoglądające w chmury o zaczarowanych kształtach.

Ale jest jeszcze inny świat zaczarowanych skał. To świat głazów i ich okruchów, odprysków, zwykłych kamieni, które w odpowiednim świetle, środowisku wydają się też być magiczne. Inne, skromne, są  wewnątrz lądu, na polach i łąkach, inne nad rzeką i strumieniem. Ale najpiękniejsze bodaj tam, gdzie stykają się dwa żywioły Ziemi: prastary ocean i wyrosły z niego ląd.

Te pogranicze światów potrafi stworzyć przepiękne galerie kolorów i kształtów. Wystarczy na moment wzrok zatrzymać, spojrzeć uważnie, wrócić w wiek dziecinny a ukaże się nam świat godny Luwru lub Ermitażu.

Na spacer fragmentami takich galerii i zgromadzonych tam naturalnych klejnotów natury zapraszam.  Trudno je znaleźć w znanych kurortach nadmorskich, na wyczesanych, ukształtowanych przez człowieka pięknych , piaszczystych plażach.  Ale wzdłuż dość jeszcze dzikich , skalistych wschodnich wybrzeży Nowej Szkocji – polecam bardzo.

If we ever go to truly high mountains, as we climb them, especially when we reach high passes – the views and vistas are unparalleled. The wide horizons of tall peaks, reaching clouds, the deep valleys below are breath taking. I was always taken by them, mesmerized. Be it in High Tatras in Poland, in Andes between Argentine and Chile,  even the peak of Mt. Cook in New Zealand or lush green, tropical volcanic peaks in French Polynesia. But none as beautiful as Canadian Rockies.  But when you look close at shapes of particular rocky formation next to you – to the detail – you could see faces of gargoyles, mythical creatures. Your imagination sets the limit. Try to remember childhood and watching clouds, their changing shapes. Then you would be able to notice the hidden mysteries of rocks.  

But there is another world of colours and shapes  that is particularly special. A place where two ancient worlds meet: the Ocean and the Land. To do that, it’s best to find not a popular touristy beach but more wild, natural, spot. Nothing could much the relatively unspoiled Eastern shores of Nova Scotia.

So let’s go for a short walk. I will try to take you to the amazing gallery of rocks tiny and huge, that are in constant battle with mighty ocean. The ocean that shapes and changes the land and rocks.

The first, I call ‘The Guardians of the Land’ / pierwsza galeria to ‘Strażnicy Lądu’

The second is ‘Things small and fluid’ / druga to ‘Rzeczy małe i zmienne’

The third one is ‘Ancient Art’ / trzecia to ‘”Sztuka antyczna’

Church towers

by Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

In my very early youth, what would you call now teenagers’ age, I had a mythical place I have never been before but new very well.  Wilno or as Lithuanians call it, Vilnius. It has a very strong connection to Polish history and identity (which, of course, doesn’t take anything away from the rightfully special connection it has with Lithuanians, the founders of the city in late medieval period) but it has also very strong and immediate connection in my own family. On top of that, two of my most cherished – at that time – national heroes were, in many ways, identified with that magic city: great romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz and founder of modern Poland, Marshal Joseph Pilsudski.  Wilno was often called a Rome of northern Europe, as it was built on seven hills surrounding it. It was also called a City of Churches.  And it still remains one. Wherever you go in the proper, old Wilno, you can see  church towers. In a way, if you don’t know the city very well, you could be advised to study pictures of its churches and then just look around for a familiar church tower and you will know where you are.

We wczesnych latach nastoletnich Wilno było moim magicznym miejscem na długo za nim mogłem tam po raz pierwszy pojechać.  Z wielu względów: duża część rodziny z tym miastem miała swoje silne związki, nie było chyba szerszego spotkania rodzinnego, gdyby coś o Wilnie się nie mówiło; Mickiewicz i Piłsudski: dwóch moich wtedy bogów prawie a ani o jednym ani drugim trudno cokolwiek mówić bez wymieniania tego grodu Giedymina; no i naturalnie silny, atawistyczny niemal bunt przeciw moskiewskiej okupacji Wilna (tak przez całą młodość traktowano odebranie Polsce Wilna po Jałcie w moim środowisku, nie wiele się wtedy mówiło o Litwie, bo każdy z nas wiedział, że ani Ukraina ukraińska ni Litwa litewska, no i w 13 letniej patriotycznej, anty-partyjnej łepetynie nie pojawiała się nawet myśl, że Litwini nie chcieliby dalej kontynuować tego cudownego związku Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodów…).

A Wilno to mili moi Miasto Wież Kościelnych. Nie potrzeba mapy, wystarczy pooglądać album zdjęć kościołów starego Wilna a mowy nie ma zagubieniu się na dłużej (co po prawdzie wyjątkowo łatwo w wijących się zaułkach, wąskich uliczkach i licznych bramach): w perspektywie ulicy lub za pierwszym zakrętem zawsze zobaczysz jakąś wieże kościelną lub cerkiewną. Zdjęcia poniżej z mojej ostatniej wizyty w 2018.

But if Wilno churches represent northern gothic (St. Ann’s church is a an absolute gem of this architecture) and Polish renaissance and baroque – opposite is true to Nova Scotia sacral architecture.  But Nova Scotia, as Wilno in Lithuania, is truly a province of Church Towers.  No (with a very few special exception in Halifax, Pictou, Mahon Bay) classic examples of gothic, baroque or any other very specific period.  Nova Scotia’s churches are local, pastoral style.  Modest or even poor, full of warm and humility.  Like it’s early settlers, be it French or Scottish, Anglo-Saxon or from Holland and Germany. Not to mention exceptionally poor black settlers from XVII century onward.

No matter which route you take while travelling through this province – one of the first sites you will notice is little churches, usually on a little hill. Often white, wooden or simple masonry. They look like guardians of the village, town.  They are as silent keepers of the history of this place since European settlement. Mostly catholic (old French settlements), protestant (Presbyterian , Episcopalian, if from Scotland or Lutheran and Calvinistic if from continental Europe) and Baptist if in Black settlements.

Jeśli Wilno to północny gotyk, renesans i specyficzny barok Wielkiego Księstwa, o tyle architektura kościółków Nowej Szkocji nie ma z tym nic wspólnego. A jest tu ich masa. Każda osada, wioska, miasteczko posiada takie, widoczne z daleka, klejnociki lokalnej architektury sakralnej. Mówiąc po porostu: wiejskie kościółki. Urocze, stare, zadbane. Na ogół drewniane i większości malowane biała kredą. Są naturalnie wyjątki w Halifaxie, Pictou czy Mahon Bay, gdzie pokaźne budowle kościelne maja specyficzny i konkretny styl architektoniczny – ale reszta tej pięknej prowincji to właśnie one, te wiejskie kościółki są ciekawym i ciepłym miejscem turystycznej atrakcji. I zbiorem lokalnej historii. Więc bardzo polecam zatrzymania sie w podróżowaniu i obejrzenie ich dokładne. Warto. Zdjęcia poniżej to tylko nieliczne przykłady tych budowli w Halifax, Dartmouth, wzdłuż wschodniego wybrzeża w kierunku do Cape Breton, Mahon Bay i Lunenburgu na południu i z Middletown na zachodzie.

I do. Did you, Mr. Premier?

by Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

This is the third article on almost identical subject.  First was published on  April 2nd. It summarized uneasy feeling: are we doing right by our seniors? Especially the ones totally helpless, confined to places called Long Term Care Centres.  How, as a society, we do really care about them?  Does what we preach reveals itself in what we do? And if it doesn’t – if our values have no meaning other than making us feel good about ourselves?

On the 16 of April, I published the second article. We were just beginning to understand the horrific scale of the tragedy that was going on behind the closed doors of many Long Term Care institutions. The ‘care’ was fully missing from them, the ‘long term’ was being shorten in a dramatic fashion.

In some provinces the percentage of all Covid-related deaths was in sixties, seventies and even higher percentage among the Long Term residents versus the entire provincial populations of Covid deaths. People were even dying not being infected but simply from lack of basic health. From abandonment.

There is a)moral culpability; b) political guilt and blame; and c) criminal negligence.

First (culpability) is the most important, although not punishable by law. In criminal cases the term ‘culpability’ is not the same as ‘guilt’. But we are not taking about law. We are talking about morals, ethics. An entire society (state) cannot punish itself. We can’t be a judge, a prosecutor, an accused, a defender and a jailer at the same time.  But it is the most important one. It does give credence to political and legal actions.  Moreover – it creates a path to action of all societal and state institutions.

Therefore without a tacit (at the very least) nod from us, from society – the state would not allowed things to disintegrate as much as they did. The state itself is void of morals. It professes them very often in its highest form, like Constitutions or Charts.  To a lesser degree in criminal and civil codes. But the state is not run by this high documents (except in very rare cases and most of the time it would be because of citizens appeal to a Court for remedy against actions the state) – a government and state is run every day by regular acts of parliaments, by decrees of government and (most often) by internal regulations of different ministries and state agencies. In that, the Government and Administration takes a clue from political measurement of the will or sympathies of electorate. Here comes point ‘b’: political guilt and blame.  What the government does in gauging the sympathies of electorate is a risky business. But you can’t govern without taking the risk. Generally speaking the government gets ‘away with a crime’ (in a manner of speaking) most of the time.  It is a game played in every state, democratic and authoritarian alike. In a democracy the government is more timid and careful with it. By judging the society feelings mistakenly – it would be judged severely by next election, which is never very far.  In dictatorships, the government can get away with a lot more – the only risk is a revolution, usually bloody and very dangerous, therefore very seldom taken up by society.

But the ‘guilt’ and ‘blame’ is something that every politician tries to avoid as much as possible. Careers and prospect of losing power is very real.

Last one is ‘c’ – criminal negligence. It happens very seldom in case of Government actions. But it can, by individual minister or high ranking administrator. In this case the price is political and criminal case, almost always supported by the State itself. This way the State (government) acts not as perpetrator but as a defender of morality of society and defender of the High Acts (Constitution, special Charts that are treated the same as the Constitution). But most of the time criminal negligence is a result of either private, individual citizens or private businesses, agencies. In both cases the peace of the state, the agreement between Society and the State is maintained. We, as a society, have manifested to the Government that such actions are not tolerated by us and the State instituted legislation and rules that prevent others from  breaking such rules. Under the duress of punishment, of course. Therefore we all can attest that there is ‘nothing rotten in the state of Denmark’. Or can we?

I think that all points (a, b and c) rise up to crimes (moral, political and criminal). Yes, it is true that we profess the dignity and care to all citizens; more than that – to all that reside even in a short period within our borders. We profess that the care of vulnerable and weak one among us deserve special care and help from the State. The tacit understanding is that the most important among them are the very young and the very old.

Then comes a test. Like a school exam. That test came to us in a form of pandemic of new, unknown and dangerous virus – coronavirus and an illness called Covid-19.

And we all failed miserably. But especially provincial governments. Of all and different political stripes: conservative, liberal and NDP alike.  I am not trying to absolve the federal government from all and any responsibility. But the simple truth is that these facilities and entire management of health system lies strictly at provincial doorsteps. With no exception. And it is guarded by them very jealously from interference of federal power.  After all, it costs enormous amounts of money that they must receive from federal coffers. And money is power in politics. Well, such is our constitutional devolution of power. 

But, specifically about long term care for seniors, our subject.  They too, like hospitals, fall under provincial jurisdiction, regulations and control. The institution itself is rather old. After the 2 world war they become regular part of our society. People lived much longer,  not only men but also women become regular part of workforce, therefore their time at home was very limited. More and more people moved to larger cities and old communal forms of help and looking after each other changed and become harder to come by. But the last 25 years skyrocketed in opening more and more of this institutions. Mainly because of the almost pandemic in itself spread of different types of dementia, with its most dangerous form: the deadly and untreatable Alzheimer disease.  We all become very familiar with them, if not our own mother or father, than someone we know ends up in these long term centres.  Something that a lot of us is not aware of, is the fact that there is growing number of residents there, who are much, much younger than typical seniors. Some in their late 30. or 40ies even.

Such a large number of this centres become a financial burden on provinces. As very intensive and specialized medical care is not really part of their operations, the governments decided to let them be owned and run by private businesses.  Of course, most of funds for the centres do come still from the provinces as the monthly rate usually is much higher than ordinary senior can afford. In most cases they do offer much safer and better setting for our seniors than would be possible, even under very  good conditions, at home.  Looked like we all stuck a good deal. Provinces still safe money than running their own care centres and we (society) had our parents and grandparents in safe place. Of course, over the course of many years we all have heard awful stories of bad care, lack of services, appalling conditions in some of them. That was not the norm, though.  Not uncommon, but not something we expected as a norm.  If we complained loudly and persistently enough – things get better. Maybe not for all, but at least for our close one.

My Mom spent last years of Her life in such a Centre. Can’t even imagine Her and mine horror if she would be in one right now. I dedicate this article to Her memory.

But we always believed that there is (perhaps not very rigorously applied) a strong provincial oversight.

Especially if something bad was going to happened. Like, let say, pandemic or epidemic for example.  How could there be not? Yes, there were signs. Remember, very recently, Baptist college educated nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, who murdered eight and seriously injured six (that we know of) senior residents in the long term centres she was employed by? Her murders went on for years. Yet, nor serious investigation was ever (until  the last one when police was called in) conducted. If not for her ‘bad luck’, maybe she would have been working still and continuing her murderous calling?

But back to Covid.  At least very early in February everybody federally and provincially knew, that the new strange coronavirus seem to be particularly deadly among old people. Everybody working in the field of medicine and care. And administration of such.  What type of plans were prepared and issued to the care centres? How many detailed and practical seminars were given to administration and employees of these centres? How many special provincial watchdogs were given orders to regularly oversee each and every one of such centres?  Check documents, staffing level and preparedness of staff? Offer them the same, or similar, PPE for use?  Made sure that regular testing for virus by mobile units were available more or less day and night if needed? Required a full and immediate death certificate on any death in facility to be examined if it could have been due to a coronavirus? Made preparations for supplementing and augmenting existing care workers in such facilities in case of shortages ? Any? Seriously?  O, yes. We locked them. This way no one could have seen … .

Let me make a confession. Being, as millions of others nowadays, at home I watch a lot of TV. Mostly news, as I always was a news addict. Political junkie almost.  So I watch, day after day, week after week daily conferences of Prime Minister and Premiers of all provinces (Yukon and Nunavut – thanks Almighty! – do not hold them on national news). And listen to them. And listen.  We are not doing, as far as the illnesses and deaths are concerned, too bad in Canada with the pandemic. Not so good economically, psychologically but not very bad in strictly medical terms. The governments seem to be doing actually a good job. Starting with the right approach by Prime Minister and by far by most premiers, also.  Generally speaking.  We, Canadians.  Unless we are not weaker, often confused, oldest generation locked in the Care Centres. If we are – we are doing absolutely awful. Tragically awful.

So when I listen to the conferences, every day I’m waiting for the premiers, any premier, to actually admit and say honestly: ‘we have failed our seniors and I, as a Premier of my province, am very sorry for failing to do the job that I was entrusted to do. And I promise you all that as soon as the pandemic will end or would become manageable, I will order a full review of all regulations and laws governing Long Term Care Centres for Senior and undertake serious overhaul of the current system. Because the system has failed you’.  So far – none was issued. Instead, I listen as the premier admonishes me to stay at home, maintain social distancing and to remember that I have to protect not even myself but the most vulnerable in our society: the sick and old ones.  And I do. But you didn’t, Mr. Premier.

Remembering – to Nova Scotia / w pamięci – dla Nowej Szkocji

(in English and Polish)

Yesterday was a very moving and touching Moment of Remembrance from Nova Scotia and from Canada for Nova Scotia. From us to the families and friends of 22 victims of terrible gun massacre last weekend.

From dignitaries, ordinary people, artists, religious leaders. And it was organized not by governments but by grassroots group of private citizens. We all had a time to held the memory of the Victims in our thoughts. Needed time. And helpful for their close ones, who must go through unspeakable terror of coming to terms with what just happened.

Because of the pandemic and very strong restriction on any movement of people and cars through the province and indeed entire country, world – many of us, who would have gone to their places , churches and halls to give them a hug, a good word and promise that they are not alone in their grief – did it that way. In front of our TV, radios.

I wen today to the place were the facts of the shooting is being gathered, analyzed. Place were people already made a quick memorial to fallen RCMP officer and by natural extension – to all the victims. Therefore, in a symbolic way, a Memorial to all victims, a place we can say goodbye to them and we can say ‘Im sorry’ to all the grieving families. To ourselves as a grieving community. Silence, respectful, individual visitors. A teddy bear, two red hats, plenty of flowers, signs, candles…

The pictures will give you a glimpse of it, hopefully the silent atmosphere of sadness and sorrow. The Provincial Headquarters of RCMP in Nova Scotia.

Right by the RCMP massive building is a small enclave of natural marches and little Spectacular Lake in the middle. I walked through the empty trail, surrounded by the eerie colours of the marshland, the green tops and branches of trees, the quite water of the pond. All in silence. It felt like a walking in a funeral march… Yet, tiny new buds on bushes, few birds surprised by my presence, a microscopic brook between trees – were alive. Or were waking up. So will we. And so will, in time, the Families of Victims. Life will go on. But we will remember.

(in Polish) Wczoraj nasza Prowincja wraz z całą Kanadą obserwowała wirtualny Moment Pamięci Ofiar strasznej zbrodni na 22 mieszkańcach małych wiosek i osiedli w północno-zachodniej części Nowej Szkocji. Czyjeś matki, żony, córki, mężowie, ojcowie, bracia, kuzyni, przyjaciele. Niepojęte i obezwładniające w czerni niezrozumiałego zła. Wszyscy w czasie tego Momentu Pamięci łączyliśmy się w smutku i obietnicy wsparcia z Rodzinami tych Ofiar. Bo zakazy pandemiczne nie pozwoliły nam na fizyczny dojazd do tych miejsc, do ich domów, kościołów, hal komunalnych.

Więc dziś pojechałem w miejsce , gdzie dojazd był możliwy, a które jest poniekąd symbolicznym centrum tej tragedii, miejsce gdzie ludzie od kilku dni zbudowali małe upamiętnienie ofiar. Do Głównej Komendy RCMP (Królewska Kanadyjska Policja Konna) w Nowej Szkocji. Na moment ciszy, skupienia. Trwania. Pluszowy miś, kwiaty, napisy, dwa czerwone stetsony (jedną z ofiar była oficer tej Policji), flaga …

Dzień był słoneczny, ciepły. Obok gmachu Komendy znajduje się mały dziki park bagienny z małym jeziorkiem w centrum. Z dala od budynków mieszkalnych. Cichy, samotny. Poszedłem tam na swój cichy spacer, na moment refleksji, na myśl o tych, którzy tak niepotrzebnie zginęli. Bagienne torfowisku sprawiało swym charakterystycznym rdzawym kolorem wrażenie jakiejś smutnej procesji orszaku pogrzebowego. Ale zaraz gdzieś pojawiał krzak świeżych bazi, ciemnozielona gałązka sosny i modrzewia, poderwał się z gałęzi zaskoczony moją obecnością ptak… Życie z ciepłem wiosennego słońca wracało na moczary. I wróci ono do bliskich tych ofiar, choc wydaje się to dziś niemożliwe. Ale nie zapomnimy.

Horror of Long Term Seniors Care Centres

by Bogumil Pacak-Gamalski

In my last article I have shared my reflections on the situation of seniors in our society during the coronavirus pandemic. How we, as a society, have to or ought to revise our responses to it; re-examine our ethical compass. More or less, I have challenged us to check if our own beliefs in our own societal, (but also individual) set of ethical and moral values holds the water. Or is it just a lofty goal fare removed from reality. The weakest are often the first ones we shamefully discard from our Decalogue of ‘do’s and don’ts’.

That was at the beginning of the epidemic and just on the edges of a serious crisis, when we heard of the tragedy in North Vancouver’s senior care home. And the full closure of all of them resulting in a practical lockdown.

But that was than. What followed in ensuing weeks, is just a full scale tragedy and collapse of the system. As Doctor Theresa Tam, our Chief Medical Officer, noted – almost half of our reported deaths were linked to care facilities or seniors homes.

In Quebec and Ontario we have learned of appalling, almost concentration camp-like lack of care and, practically speaking, an abandonment of the seniors by the operators of these centres.

There is no reason to hope that in other provinces the situation is very different and drastically better. To the contrary. Just today we learned of many cases and deaths in Nova Scotia seniors care centres.  There is very strong argument to expect the same everywhere in these type of centres. If not worse. Why? Because it didn’t happened in a vacuum. It happened on our collective watch. Under the eyes of provincial regulators and government. As we found out, but should have known much earlier, these controls and ‘eyes’ of public health were most of the time closed. Or wilfully blind by design. Don’t see – don’t know. Therefore: if I don’t know, I can’t do anything about it nor to feel guilty or at fault.

But they should feel guilty. They are at fault. We all are. 40 years ago seniors full care centres were little known and not very numerous.  But with the advance of modern medicine, extended life spans of all of us, that changed.  Some of us (before we die) in an advanced old age loose gradually a lot of physical abilities to be independent or to require only basic care and help from family and friends. Some loose  gradually mental capacity to take care of ourselves. That is even more dangerous.  Advanced age means also that all of our children (if we have any) are not young either, by the time we become very old and in need of help. Majority of advanced age seniors children are … seniors themselves.

And let us not forget the various types of dementia, with Alzheimer being the most dangerous of them, that seem to spread like a wild fire in recent decades. These conditions and ailments require a specialized, non-stop medical and household care. The word ‘medical’ is paramount. Dementia and Alzheimer are medical ailments that require medical treatment. Not just the mundane cooking and laundry and help with personal hygiene.  A progressive disease with no cure. Lethal.  But the length of it often is very long – from mild form to  almost  vegetative state in some cases.  Ugly. Robing the person of almost every shred of personal dignity. Shall I go on? No. A lot of you knows it, because someone close to you is going through it or went through it before dying, when one by one, every organ of your body stops working. Not like in a heart attack. That would be considered almost merciful.  A majority of you, who never encounter it in a family setting – will know it.

Why am I writing about it in painful detail almost? To make you understand, that if not majority, a very sizable number of full care Centres they are there because they have no other choices. Not because it is just more convenient for them. You know – the food that someone else shops for and cooks, the plates and dishes that someone else cleans after you, the laundry, the cleaning of your room, changing of bedding, doing your hair, your nails, your showers and baths  (at the end it is just wet sponge and wipes ), the moving you from bed to wheelchair and back. The list goes on. It is medically necessary. Like a hospital is not a hotel we choose to go to for fun. Like a hospital. That is another term I want you to remember.

 So we have two terms now to pay attention to: 1) the reason  for senior being in a centre like that is of medical nature, not simply an age or convenience;

2) the care, nurse and doctors check offs, adjusting and giving out medicine (pills, shots and the likes), medical treatment in general. At the end it also serves as a palliative care institution.

Again – as in hospitals. The difference is that hospital is an active medical trauma treatment centre, with vast array of diagnostic tools, and possibility of very decisive medical intervention. By nature designed for relatively short  stay.  Full care senior’s centres are designed to be a residence. Usually extending beyond one year, or close to it. Regular hospitals would be absolutely way too expensive to operate under such conditions. Hospitals offer acute treatment, with a goal of a cure for patient. Seniors homes offer light medical treatment (with no practical nor even idealistic goal for curing residents), safer environment and at the end of resident’s stay – palliative care. Unless when there is an unexpected accident that require hospital intervention or specific family’s requests for transfer to a hospital for more active intervention.

But let’s not make any wrong distinctions: both are of medical nature.  One short term and expectation of curing patient (hospital); the other very long term stay (by nature – final) and no expectation of curing patient – just making her/him safer and relatively comfortable.  Neither is an extension of home.   They try to be as much as possible – but they are not.  Governments spent huge amount of money to subsidize most residents stays there. Some can afford to pay it themselves, but it would be a minority as the costs are in thousands of dollars every month.  All provinces decided many years ago that it is more economical to let the centres be in private hands, run as businesses, then in governments hands.  And we let them.  Yes, it would have been more expensive to run them by government.  Just the labour cost by itself – in hospitals professionally trained staff is paid much higher rate, than similar staff in the centres. Of course other costs, too. For example continuing training and education of hospital staff versus very limited training of similar staff in the privately run centres. Hospitals are not run on a business model. And they shouldn’t be.  The Centres – are. The operators/owners are running a business, not a charity.

The results, in an emergency situation of even lesser magnitude than the pandemic, are the way they are. Tragic. Shameful. Incomprehensible.  Existing model is wrong and is not working under stress. Barely under normal circumstances.  We are left powerless, not even knowing what is happening to our parents, aunts, family members and friends, who are locked behind these walls.

This can not be put squarely at the operators feet. It is a fault by design and if not equal, at least a partial blame is on the side of the government.  The regime set-up to control and supervise the centres by province’s Health Authorities failed. Again – be design. By not making it robust and strong enough. By not following own rules, which by themselves are minimalist and weak.

If the provinces can’t guarantee a fast and permanent fixing of the oversight – it should take over the running of the establishments under its own umbrella and ownership. It is an extension of medical care.

If the model of having them in private hands is honestly believed as a more efficient one and better – than an extensive overhaul of the Health Authorities effective control and oversight needs to be undertaken almost immediately. With the public being clearly informed of the process, it’s goal and timetable for conclusion.  Proper staff-resident ratio must be established by the province and remuneration for employees should mirror the importance and the professionalism that is expected of them.  You can’t expect the staff to be paid near minimum wage and do properly the extremely hard work they do. Extremely hard and difficult – of that I know, for I have spent hundreds of hours in such facility. During daytime, at night, mornings, evenings. On purpose, as I wanted to make sure that ‘good’ things are not happening only during typical visiting hours. Helped them wash residents, change them, feed them. I can’t say: I wouldn’t do it for any money. No, I have done it for free. But if I was to work there, I wouldn’t under any circumstance be paid less than minimum twice as much as they were paid.  None of the blame could be placed under their feet.  Of that I’m certain.

The pictures in my mind of the neglected and left to their own inability to do almost anything residents in some of the Homes in Ontario and Quebec (I am also certain that they are like that in every other province) are seared in my brain and heart.  Most of you probably listened or read the recent stories. I will not repeat the details here. Sufficient to say, they are horrific, inhuman pictures.

Something must be done and we (that means you too, dear Reader) must make sure that it will. Call, write to you MP, to your premier, minister of health, minister of social services, senior’s advocate. Please, do.  Our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, our friends – deserve better. You deserve better in the future, when you might (which is becoming increasingly common) become a resident in one of them.