A leopard print scarf, a miniature neon cheetah, and a written message saying, “Miss you. Love you forever, my Grammie.” These are a few of the memories found on “Maggie’s chair,” a long-term care resident that passed away from COVID-19.
Her chair is one of seven featured in “COVID in the House of Old,” an art exhibit displayed at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s library on the Surrey campus, created by Megan Davies, a professor at York University.
The aging population in Canada has been the focus of Davies’s research for many years. She quickly noticed the disproportionate losses families faced with those who died of COVID-19 in retirement homes.
She’s always had close relationships with seniors throughout her life, many of whom were family. When the pandemic started she saw how it was impacting long-term care homes. The crisis encouraged her to bring awareness to the lives that were lost.
“I thought, ‘Canadians are going to want to walk away from this,’” Davies says. “I’m an academic and there were lots of grants out there, but I don’t want to do a research project. I want to create an experience for people so they can’t walk away.”
Approximately 80 per cent of deaths in the first wave of the pandemic were residents in long-term care homes in Canada. A study by the Canadian Institute of Health Information found that Canada had the highest rate of deaths in long-term care, compared to 14 other countries in the first wave.
Although many families provide care for their elders in these homes, they were isolated away from them due to health risks. Along with visits from doctors being limited, the care for these residents was significantly reduced in the pandemic. Davies says these numbers didn’t surprise her, considering how underfunded and overlooked these institutions are.
“My goal with the exhibit was to really reach people’s hearts,” Davies says. “But at the same time, give them a bit of a basket of analysis to make sense of it. Not just, ‘Oh, a terrible thing happened.’ But a terrible thing happened and these were some of the pieces of it.”
She hopes to receive more funding for this project in order to reach provinces such as Manitoba and Quebec, to share more stories about the lives of those who have passed. She believes this project helps families heal their unresolved feelings, as she’s watched those she’s connected with get the chance to tell the stories of their loved ones.
“I feel like that there [is] a lot that COVID revealed, so many cracks in our society, so many equity issues,” says Davies. “But for me, the one that I feel drawn to address is the one about the way in which we abandoned our elderly, our most vulnerable.”
Davies urges people to consider signing a petition on the exhibit website, which outlines the inequities in the long-term care system that she’s pushing to be addressed by the provincial and territorial governments.
The exhibit is on display in the Arbutus atrium, located at the entrance to the library at the Surrey campus. It is free to visit during KPU’s library hours until April 28.