Lung cancer patient says hospital COVID protection ‘all wrong’ after testing positive

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Masking and physical distancing policies at The Ottawa Hospital are “all wrong,” says a pneumonia and lung cancer patient who tested positive for COVID-19 while receiving care at the hospital.

Glenda Senack, 65, went to The Ottawa Hospital (TOH)’s general campus Aug. 8 after developing a cough that made it difficult for her to breathe.

She was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer last fall and doctors believed she had developed an aggressive form of pneumonia from radiation treatment.

Because she’s immunocompromised, Senack was initially kept in a semi-private room with just one other patient.

She said that abruptly changed two days later when hospital staff moved her into a room shared with three other people — with no explanation.

Senack said she was within arm’s reach of the patient beside her. Visitors would come into the room unmasked.

“That was all wrong,” she said.

A hospital patient in a hospital room. A tray in front of her includes water and a coffee cup.
Senack went to hospital after she developed pneumonia. Doctors believe it was linked to her radiation treatment for Stage 3 lung cancer (Submitted by Charlie Senack)

Just days later, Senack and another patient tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was really worried,” her son Charlie said. 

“Stage 3 lung cancer is very serious in itself. Add pneumonia to that mix, it’s incredibly serious. Then add something like COVID-19, which we know likes to attack the lungs and I mean to me, that’s just a deadly cocktail.”

Glenda Senack was given antibiotics and after weeks in the hospital, was discharged on Tuesday. Her family believes the potential risk she faced could have been avoided if stricter COVID-19 protocols were in place.

“While COVID for the average person might not mean the same thing that it did, you know, say back in March 2020 — for people like my mom, COVID can be deadly,” Charlie said.

WATCH | Her son’s concerns about what happened:

Son says Ottawa hospital ‘irresponsible’ after ill mom got COVID-19

Charlie Senack says he had “a sinking feeling” in his chest when he learned his 65-year-old mother was placed in a room with three other patients at The Ottawa Hospital. His mom, who had cancer and pneumonia, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after her hospital roommate got the illness.

COVID-19 protocols adjusted ‘as necessary’

As of June 12, masking became optional at TOH in public spaces such as hallways, cafeterias, meeting rooms and clinical areas where direct patient care is not provided.

Montfort Hospital, Queensway Carleton Hospital and Ottawa’s mental health centre The Royal all made similar changes in May.

A spokesperson for TOH said they couldn’t comment on specific patient cases, but in an email added “masks continue to be required at The Ottawa Hospital during patient care, in patient rooms, and on outbreak units.”

It’s the same case for the emergency room and outpatient areas, depending on symptoms.

While they’re not required in all parts of the hospital “masks are still widely available throughout The Ottawa Hospital,” the statement continued. Visitors and patients should wear one at all times if feeling unwell, it read.

Senack and her son said none of these protocols seemed strictly enforced during her stay at the hospital. They called on the hospital to do better.

The statement did not speak to physical distancing policies for vulnerable patients.

“We continue to monitor activity in the hospital and in the community and will make adjustments as necessary,” the statement read.

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