More than half of COVID-19 deaths in the province come from assisted living facilities
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
It is essential to know why certain care homes were unable to prevent outbreaks while other care homes were able to contain COVID-19 outbreaks to a single resident or staff member.
Considering that 63 percent of all of BC COVID-19 deaths occurred in care home outbreaks up to this point, it makes sense that BC’s independent watchdog for seniors will be conducting an investigation into the province’s care homes. This comes now because, as the senior advocate Isobel Mackenzie says, it is essential to know why certain care homes were unable to prevent outbreaks while other care homes were able to contain COVID-19 outbreaks to a single resident or staff member. BC’s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry also has commented on the ambiguousness surrounding why COVID-19 was much more lethal in some care homes and not others. Mackenzie says that this pandemic has brought attention to several issues within the BC care home system.
Care homes that faced some the most devastating outbreaks will be paid special attention; Little Mountain Place, Tabor Village in Abbotsford, Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, and Langley Lodge are high on the seniors advocate’s priority list. Her exploration of these issues will focus on the use of protective equipment, the thoroughness of contact tracing, testing methods, and how quickly the outbreak was called. These factors will be paid special attention because of cases like the care home Little Mountain Place; the Canadian Press reports that the care home had communicated with families that an employee had contracted the virus but there was minimal risk of infection, so group activities and visits continued—and within two days they declared an outbreak.
Calls for a public investigation have been made by residents, family members of residents, and staff members. Requests for a full public investigation first came after BC’s first COVID-19 outbreak at a care home at Lynn Valley in May, and have been repeated multiple times since. Some of the examples of the accusations against care homes like Lynn Valley include instances of seniors going unfed and left in pee-soaked clothes for multiple hours. BC’s seniors advocate and BC’s Premier John Horgan have all previously rejected the idea of a full-blown public investigation, citing that the process would be too lengthy. Horgan stated that meaningful dialogue was the proper solution; Mackenzie said that independent research would be a good approach, but she also stated the situation would be reviewed in considering a public investigation.
This leads to the reason why many care homes say that they had experienced devastating outbreaks—staff shortage. Coronavirus infections negatively impacted staff numbers seeing how 14-day quarantines are necessary. There have been some attempts at solving this problem; Vancouver Coastal Health sent Little Mountain Place care home more than 60 workers. Among the other reasons for the outbreak is the lack of consistent daily testing; some care homes, like Little Mountain Place for example, solely rely on self-monitoring of symptoms. In the face of so many outbreaks, Mackenzie called for daily testing in care homes last November.
Some of the questions the investigation looks to answer are if some precautions could have been taken quicker, and if testing and contact tracing should have been more aggressive. The pandemic certainly has brought the public’s attention to the problems in care homes, but Mackenzie has a hopeful outlook for the future. “I think we’re going to see an emphasis on not just the staffing levels but staffing training and all of that’s going to link to what are we paying people, how are we creating this culture of good care in our care homes.”