Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos has been thinking about long-term care for nearly a decade, since she was paired, midway through her PhD in sociology at York University, with Dr. Pat Armstrong, a legendary academic who was researching staffing levels at nursing homes. But it wasn’t until she actually stepped inside an LTC home—after her grandmother moved into one—that she truly understood how radically broken the system was.
“You press that call button, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait,” she says. “There just aren’t enough people in these homes to provide care.” Her grandmother passed away before the pandemic arrived at Canadian LTC homes, but the experience sparked Stamatopoulos’ relentless advocacy.
In March 2020, she started tweeting information about COVID out-breaks in LTC, then began connecting family members who had reached out to her with journalists looking to cover their stories. Dr. V., as her fans call her, made her first media appearance in May 2020—“I’ve never had training; I’m just speaking the truth”—and has since given more than 250 scorched-earth interviews on LTC’s most burning issues. Among them: for-profit care (“a cancer on the sector,” she tells me), increasing reliance on an Uber-style gig workforce (“so dangerous”) and Ontario’s $5,000 incentive to attract new personal support workers to LTC (“throwing money down the drain because it doesn’t address the revolving door of workers leaving this sector”). These news hits are in addition to her other advocacy work, which includes presenting to Ontario’s LTC COVID-19 Commission, teaming up with Ontario MPP Lisa Gretzky to table a bill that legislates visitation ac- cess for caregivers, and researching the im- pact of Ontario’s LTC lockdowns on residents and caregivers. And she does it all on her own time while working full-time as a professor of criminology and social justice at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont.
“It’s gotten to the point where some of these family members are worried that I have vicarious trauma from hearing about what they’ve been through,” she says. “And it does weigh on me.” She finds relief in the Real Housewives franchise—and in knowing that her work is making a difference. The week before we spoke, Ontario enacted a mandatory vaccine policy for LTC staff, with Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips acknowledging something that Stamatopoulos had been making a lot of noise about this fall: Unvaccinated staff are a “significant cause” of fourth-wave outbreaks. “Family members and staff had been telling me this,” she says. “And I was hitting it home like it was nobody’s business.”
Meet all of our 2021 Doris Anderson Award winners here.