Residents with COVID-19 at the Barrie, Ont. long-term care facility now home to the province’s worst outbreak were being kept in the same rooms as those who had not yet contracted the virus, according to an Ontario government inspector’s report from earlier this month.
Inside Roberta Place, a more contagious variant of the virus first found in Britain is believed to have wreaked havoc, killing 45 people (among them one essential caregiver) and infecting 127 residents and 86 staff, according to numbers from the facility and reported by the local public-health unit on Monday. The wave of infections has hit all but two residents and about half of the home’s staff.
An Ontario government inspector visited the site on Jan. 12 and 13, four days after the local health unit declared an outbreak. According to a report dated Jan. 18, the inspector issued a compliance order after finding that “resident rooms that were shared by both confirmed COVID-19-positive residents and residents not confirmed to have COVID-19.”
The inspection also found that “certain staff were providing care to both confirmed COVID-19-positive residents and residents not confirmed to have COVID-19.”
The company that owns the home, Jarlette Health Services, did not respond to a request for comment before deadline on Monday. Over the weekend, the company’s president, David Jarlette, told CTV News that the rapid rise of the outbreak forced so many staff into isolation so quickly that the home was left shorthanded.
The inspection report paints a picture of a long-term care home unable to cope with the escalating outbreak.
“Multiple residents were observed out of isolation, touching high-touch surfaces and coming in close contact with other residents,” the report reads. “Some of these residents were identified as COVID-19 positive. A Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) indicated that they tried to keep residents isolated but some residents refused to stay in their rooms.”
Two days before the report was filed, Simcoe-Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Charles Gardner issued an order handing control of the home’s outbreak to Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. Staff from Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre and the Red Cross are also assisting with efforts to care for the home’s residents.
The report also notes that over the past 36 months, inspectors had issued Roberta Place with 12 previous compliance orders, 30 voluntary “plans of correction” and 15 formal written notices of other rule violations.
The Opposition NDP said Monday that the Ontario government should again request the military to assist at hard-hit long-term care homes, as it did during the first wave of the virus. But Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that wasn’t necessary.
“We’ve asked the Red Cross [workers] that have been in there. That’s the support we needed. When I asked that question, I was told ... that we don’t need them [the Canadian Forces],” Mr. Ford said.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said everyone in the home able to receive a vaccine has now been given one. Last week, Simcoe-Muskoka’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, Colin Lee, blamed the slow vaccine rollout for allowing the outbreak to rip through the home.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Ontario released its revamped vaccination plan to account for significant delays in the delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while facing questions about why long-term care residents weren’t inoculated sooner.
The province said because Pfizer is not sending any doses to Canada this week, and only a fraction of those promised next week, it will focus its efforts on vaccinating long-term care residents – not health care workers or essential caregivers – by the new earlier deadline of Feb. 5.
Ontario has so far vaccinated about 46,000 residents in long-term care, or about 68 per cent of a total population of 67,000. In contrast, Quebec, has inoculated 90 per cent of residents, after it deployed the difficult-to-transport vaccine – which must be stored in ultra-cold freezers – directly into long-term care homes. Ontario instead set up vaccination centres in hospitals.
Pfizer spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said in a statement that the company “does not recommend redistribution” of the vaccine but provided “revised guidance” on Dec. 18 to the Public Health Agency of Canada about sending doses to sites such as long-term care homes, and that the information was expected to be communicated to the provinces the week of Dec. 21. But Ontario did not move the doses into homes until the new year.
Retired general Rick Hillier, who chairs Ontario’s vaccine task force, said the province worked with Pfizer to move vaccines into long-term care homes “fairly quickly” in early January “by getting the protocols right so that we would not diminish the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
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