Kitra Cahana lives in Arizona, but her family is all in Montreal- currently the COVID-19 epicenter of Canada. Her sister is finishing up her second year as a nursing student, about to go to the frontline; her mother is a social worker in a residence for olders; and her father is disabled and living in a large long-term care centre. From thousands of miles away, Kitra is staying directly connected to her father’s wellbeing during this turbulent time. Since March, she has become increasingly aware of not only her father’s struggles, but also the overall challenges long-term care has been facing for a long long time.
In normal times, Kitra would be traveling, filmmaking, and working as a photojournalist and filmmaker for National Geographic, NBC News, and other publications. Now, she is channeling her energy into a grassroots movement focused on Long Term Care. She is transforming the public’s perception of long term care through artwork and advocacy for both residents and workers through #Artists4LongTermCare. In conjunction, she has created a toolkit for residents, and families and friends, to empower them to be advocates and activists. Kitra knows she can’t do this alone, so she’s tapping into her vast networks, forging connections and coalitions between artists and activists. “I’m giving my absolute everything to try to protect residents and the workers who are heroically caring for them.”
This endeavor began when Kitra realized the gravity of her father’s situation and the overall condition of long-term care, specifically in Montreal. In the U.S. at least 37% of all Covid-19 deaths are residents or workers in long-term care facilities. But in Canada, the figure is 82%. This was especially dire in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The Candian federal government directed the military to assist in the worst-hit long term care homes. At the end of May, the military released a report detailing the complete devastation these homes are facing. “There is a tornado of vulnerability in these buildings.” as Kitra describes it.
“Early on I started looking around and I was seeing all these mutual aid groups popping up online,” Kitra says “All of my friends were getting involved in all types of initiatives, and I wanted to connect with the other activists who were already advocating for long term care.” But amongst the many initiatives created by younger artists and activists in Kitra’s communities she didn’t find any mobilizing to support long term care in Montreal- or anywhere else. “There is a complete lack of awareness and focus on these communities, the nursing homes, the elderly, disabled folks in the facilities, and the caregivers.”
Even though Kitra did not see her friends or other activists caring about long term care centres, she did see the industriousness of the health care workers and residents’ loved ones. To harness this potential, Kitra decided to start her own initiative to help her dad’s home. She didn’t know any other families within her father’s residency, but she started to seek them out and created a facebook group to gather everyone together. She then helped to form whatsapp chats for family members based on what floor their loved one was living on. Soon, resources were being exchanged, emotional ties were being made, and Kitra saw the seed she had planted take on a life of its own through the ups and downs of diagnoses, deaths, and recoveries. Out of these experiences and the resources collected, Kitra created the toolkit to guide others through community building and information sharing. It was an endeavor that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of other families and the staff of the centre. Kitra explained “They understand the intricacies of why these locales are so vulnerable.”
The guide not only advocates for the residents, but also the nurses, care partners, and other staff, too. Kitra has taken into account that the workers are a vulnerable population as well, because a majority of them come from immigrant and migrant communities. “They themselves need additional support during the pandemic and they’re in these facilities putting their own lives at risk,” Kitra says “so the way to protect the residents is to protect the workers”.
Kitra knew that such a deep problem needed a deep solution- deeper than just changing the community of the centres themselves. Kitra understood that society’s opinion of long term care needed to be changed too. As a photojournalist and filmmaker, Kitra understands the power of art and storytelling to “move and shake” people into action. “But there was a lack of imagery, a lack of everyday people commenting and saying we have to do something.” Kitra knew she couldn’t create this impact on her own. So she contacted her friends photographer Isadora Kosofsky and investigative journalist Yasin Kakande, and together they sparked #artists4longtermcare. “Artists 4 Long Term Care is a social action initiative that uses art and storytelling to raise awareness about the crisis facing residents and staff of long-term care facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic.” They have been receiving artwork from all over the world in support of the initiative.
Kitra’s tireless work is promoting the big ideas we need to overcome this crisis. “I didn’t see it as a COVID problem with a quick fix answer, it is a systemic issue that must take a movement to change.”
Want to help? Here’s what you can do:
- Follow @artists4longtermcare on Instagram and share the images on social media tagging them and using the hashtag #artists4longtermcare
- Use the artwork non-commercially: download these images and give credit to the artist and @artists4longtermcare when you use them
- Send the toolkit to your networks and include in your list of resources
- Share additional resources, ideas, or feedback about the toolkit by emailing email@example.com
- Create or commission artwork: read the artist brief in English HERE. And in French HERE. Share it with other artists, photographers, poets, filmmakers etc. who may want to participate