Diane Sims is now palliative, fighting for the voiceless recipients of care
STRATFORD – The name Diane Sims was once very familiar to Expositor readers as she worked for this paper in the mid-1980s as an editor and writer. Ms. Sims remained relentless in her pursuit of the story and always remained undaunted by any obstacle despite her ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis. She even reached Honorary Haweater status, complete with a framed certificate authorized by the Grand Haw himself. Now, at age 63 and in palliative care at her Stratford home in the midst of a global pandemic, the author and former journalist is fighting another battle on behalf of those whom she says are unable to speak out and be heard on their own behalf.
Ms. Sims is dying. She makes no bones about it and she is facing that immutable fact with her customary calm and grace. But she has absolutely no interest whatsoever in having the short remaining time she has to spend with her partner cut short by either of them contracting COVID-19 or any of its increasingly pernicious variants.
That is why Ms. Sims is using every ounce of her remaining strength and all of her considerable journalistic acumen to draw attention to what she frames as a ludicrous shortcoming in Ontario’s approach to homecare health and safety—the lack of a vaccine mandate for homecare workers.
Ms. Sims requires considerable assistance in dealing with her (soon to be fatal) illness and its symptoms. A rotating battery of 12 homecare workers enter Ms. Sims’ home each week, up to six visits a day, to provide her with the essentials of palliative care, toileting, bathing and dressing her—that and a battery of 56 pills a day help to keep her relatively stable for now. Connecting and operating the lift that takes her from bed to commode is another job of her healthcare workers, an extremely important activity as Ms. Sims’ bowels have ceased to operate correctly, leaving her in a constant state of diarrhea.
“There are always accidents,” shared Ms. Sims, whose precarious health situation can make those situations far more deadly than embarrassing. “Because my body is dying, they have to keep me in diapers,” she said. But staying in a soiled diaper is not an option. “I am very susceptible to E. coli infections, any of which could prove fatal.”
In casual conversations, Ms. Sims was shocked to discover that at least three of the 12 homecare workers she depends upon are not vaccinated.
“Three or four have made it very clear they are not vaccinated and will not be,” she said. “One believes that it is an evil potion, another thinks that the first dose contains a microchip and the second dose boils your internal organs. Two others believe a compilation of conspiracy theories.”
She approached her homecare provider, Cheshire Independent Living Services, requesting that they not send unvaccinated workers to her home. Her doctor has written a letter to the home stating that under no circumstances is she to be exposed to unvaccinated workers. She found herself stonewalled, with the homecare provider citing “privacy issues” in being unable to verify whether their staff and volunteers are vaccinated.
As of writing, homecare workers in the Province of Ontario are not mandated to be vaccinated, even though workers providing similar care in long-term care facilities must be vaccinated by next month.
“I feel violated and betrayed,” said Ms. Sims. “I don’t want to have to choose between getting care and putting my life at risk.”
“There is no across-the-board mandate in place for health care workers,” confirms Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, “which means we’ll see unvaccinated PSWs leaving long-term care where vaccines are required to work in homecare. More vulnerable people will have to choose between losing their homecare or inviting a potentially unvaccinated person into their home.”
“Many already had to wait far too long for the Ford government to bring vaccine mandates to long-term care,” continued Mr. Mantha. “If Ford doesn’t finish the job by making vaccines mandatory for all health care workers, he’s simply emboldening unvaccinated employees to work in homecare and condemning people to make a dangerous and painful choice.”
Ms. Sims is facing that dangerous and painful choice up close and personal. Her partner Dennis fills in as much as he can, but she fears for the impact those health care responsibilities are having on him, let alone the increased burdens that come from her no longer being able to access her homecare services.
“We are very lucky in that he has a very accommodating employer who lets him come home to help me whenever I call,” she said.
“Dennis and I have had to cancel the workers who have volunteered that they are unvaccinated,” she said. As for some of the rest, it is a roll of the dice the stress of which neither of them need to be coping with during this most challenging of life’s experiences.
“I’m not alone,” she said. “There are about 35 of us in the Stratford area, and another 250 in the London area that depend on their services.”
As she set about her investigations into the matter, Ms. Sims said she discovered that “the Stratford Board of Health had no idea the homecare agency was pulling this stunt, neither did the Ministry of Health. They are developing a letter to be sent to the agency, to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, all of the MPPs and boards of health across Ontario.”
Ms. Sims is adamant. “All health workers must be vaccinated,” she said.
She has been kept busy doing media interviews across the province, with CBC outlets in Toronto, Barrie, Ontario Today, Windsor, Kitchener, Kingston, Peterborough and Thunder Bay lined up for Tuesday morning. “I am still working on CBC Sudbury,” said Ms. Sims. “I worked at CBC Sudbury.”
“I am standing up, baring my body and soul because there are thousands of others too afraid of standing up and others who won’t stand up because there are afraid of losing their hours—so I have to do it.”