With a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic impacting Ontario, Lt. Col. James Stocker recalls his experiences sending troops into long-term care homes earlier this year during Operation Laser.
On Nov. 10, Stocker took questions from journalism students at Centennial College and the University of Toronto over Zoom Video Communications about his role in Operation Laser, which was the military’s response to COVID-19 in Ontario.
Despite the drastic circumstances, some of the troops formed very close relationships to the elderly in the homes.
“We found out that some of the veterans were from the same regiments that we were force-generating from,” Stocker said.
“So they’d be a Queens Own Rifles or a Royal Regiment of Canada, whatever the case may be. You’d find someone from that unit and their memorabilia in their room, and recognize they’re still very proud of that service. That fostered some really tight relationships.”
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With the rate of new COVID-19 cases now reaching more than 4,000 cases, according to the CBC, long-term care homes could enter into more lockdowns as a last resort to fight the virus.
The province of Ontario requested military aid during the first wave, for which Stocker organized the deployment of soldiers into long-term care facilities. The Territorial Battle Group One composite unit was sent in for dealing with the virus in nursing homes.
The situation they found in the homes was disclosed in the Operation Laser report, and contains shocking details of the mismanagement within the care homes, including unsafe care practices, infection control and more.
Troops ready to assist in future
Stocker has been decorated for his services in Afghanistan, Kuwait and more, as well as three domestic deployments. Two of which were for natural disaster response, and the third being Operation Laser.
Originally Territorial Battle Group One was prepared for tasks such as flood and fire emergency deployment, but after learning they were being deployed into nursing homes it was clear they would need to adapt. The unit received training in personal protective equipment and sensitization, as well as other geriatric skills.
Even the medical personnel needed special training, as in normal operations care is usually given to people with physical trauma injuries instead of maintenance care.
Stocker and the troops under his command remain ready if Ontario requests aid again. Nursing homes are still highly vulnerable to the virus, and the rise of COVID-19 cases makes further complications a serious possibility.