Staff and residents with mental health issues feeling the effects of isolation in Kahnawake's ILC
The Independent Living Center in Kahnawake. FILE PHOTO
MONTREAL -- Lyle McComber has lived at the Independent Living Center (ILC) in Kahnawake, and is desperate for a break from the confinement imposed due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal's South Shore.
"I used to walk on the island and the bike path," said McComber. "I miss doing that so, so much."
McComber has been at the ILC for nine years, and the past year has been among his most difficult.
"I completely understand what they're (authorities) trying to do and a lot of what they're doing is very good, however, there's only a certain amount that a person can take to I mean, my fear is if this goes on for two to three more years I think gonna keep us all locked down for two to three more years," said McComber.
Lyle McComber has lived in a home for people with mental health issues in Kahnawake, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly stressful with the imposed lockdown. SOURCE: Lyle McComber
The centre is a home for people with mental health issues. Around 12 residents live at the centre full-time, but enjoy a certain amount of independence and can go for outings.
Lisa Westaway is the executive director at the community's Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre, and on Kahnawake's COVID-19 task force. She understands that it has been difficult for the residents, but that it's vital to follow health measures, as the population at the residence remains at risk.
"We treat it in the same way that we treat Elders' Lodge and our long-term care facility because of the varied age population that's there," said Westaway, who noted the age range goes from people in their 20s to those in their 80s. "So we have a vulnerable population, not just because of a particular diagnosis, but also because of age, and so we follow the same measures that we have everywhere else."
In addition, the residents' ability to live independently varies at the centre with some able to own and drive a car while others require an attendant when out and about.
She noted that the pandemic has been hard for everyone including staff that are trying to make residents as comfortable as possible.
"I understand how frustrating and how upset residents are because it's hard. We all feel that way," said Westaway. "However, at this time, our personal individual decisions still impact the collective, and ILC, unfortunately, is the collective, so, one person's actions may impact another."
Residents play bingo and other games as well as cooking, music and other one-on-one activities that have been modified throughout the pandemic.
They are not permitted, however, to leave the facility, which includes relatively small grounds to go outside.
Westaway noted that staff remain under intense pressure to do their jobs well, make residents' lives easier, but also avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.
"The motto of their job is to help, so that that in itself is a huge stress," she said. "There's also a stress because it's a group environment that they will bring COVID back home to their families. And so that, that's the second additional stress that they have to live with."
In addition, frontline workers need to impose measures that impact the clienteles' well-being and comfort, which, Westaway knows, is not easy.
"Gaving to do that on a day-to-day basis, and seeing firsthand the impacts on your clientele that you work with, is must be very very difficult," she said calling it a no-win situation.
McComber said he suffers from chronic depression and is a recovering alcoholic and knows the staff is doing their best and had nothing but praise for them.
"All the staff is great," he said. "I can say I would never say anything negative about the staff. They work their butt off to do the best they can for us from management to like the to our security guards, they're the best you know I mean they build the best before we had the COVID pandemic and they're still the best right now."
Westaway say Kahanwake currently has 15 active COVID-19 cases and is still considered in a red zone.
"Especially for the younger age group we're not in a particularly safe situation we still have a lot of risk," she said. "Therefore we haven't released measures, although we do see it coming."
ILC residents will receive their second vaccine dose this week, meaning restrictions may be relaxed soon.
The ILC grounds are not large, which can be frustrating for those like McComber who enjoy walking and exploring the community.
McComber would simply like a break from the lockdown so he and the other residents at his centre can take in a breath of fresh air.
"I don't want to see my fellow residents suffer anymore, because I see the pain on people and it's just not right," he said.