A physician is calling for provincial assistance at an Ontario long-term care home hit by nine deaths and more than 100 COVID-19 infections in a little more than a week.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit declared a facility-wide outbreak at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie on Jan. 8. On Sunday, the facility confirmed nine resident deaths, 62 confirmed resident cases and 43 confirmed staff cases. Two essential visitors have also tested positive.
But physician Kelley Wright, a medical director of several long-term care facilities who is volunteering at Roberta Place, said 109 of 122 residents had symptoms, and that those who had not yet tested positive were awaiting results. Nearly all staff members contracted the virus, including senior leadership, she added.
“It’s imaginably hard, and it’s overwhelming,” Dr. Wright said. “I’m not sure if the powers that be are aware of how quickly and how hard this has hit, and so my question is: Where is the government help in all this? Where is the province? It’s all falling to the community level and individual homes.”
Testing is under way to determine if the British variant of the coronavirus, which scientists believe is as much as 70 per cent more transmissible, was brought into the facility.
Residents of long-term care facilities in Ontario account for 5.6 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the province and about 60 per cent of all deaths.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for the deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces to Roberta Place and other care homes, saying a “horrifying humanitarian crisis” is playing out behind nursing-home walls.
“In some of these homes, there aren’t enough people to offer residents the basics, let alone staff having the time to comfort and console residents who are battling this horrible virus,” Ms. Horwath said in a statement issued Sunday.
Krystle Caputo, press secretary to Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care, said the situation during the second wave of coronavirus infections is “very different” from the first, when Canadian soldiers were called in to assist overrun care homes.
“Since then, the government has taken action to address urgent staffing shortages, including management orders, enabling the deployment of hospital staff and the use of infection prevention and control teams,” Ms. Caputo wrote in an e-mail on Sunday. “The ministry, public-health units and all of our acute care sector partners continue to work together to ensure every home has the support it needs.”
Stephanie Barber, community-relations co-ordinator for Roberta Place, said the facility is working with numerous partners, including several local hospitals, to secure additional staffing. As well, it has for the past week had a dedicated human-resources team working to fill potential gaps. The Canadian Red Cross has also been brought in to assist, Ms. Barber said.
She added that public health carried out a vaccination clinic at the home on Saturday, administering 71 vaccines to residents and staff.
“We are confident that this is a positive step for all those who live and work at Roberta Place, as the vaccination is an added layer of defence against the COVID-19 virus,” Ms. Barber wrote in an e-mail.
Sarah Carisse’s grandmother, who turns 100 in April, has been a resident of Roberta Place for a year. Ms. Carisse said her grandmother has always been given a high level of care and that everything was “great” until the outbreak was declared. Her father, who serves as her grandmother’s essential caregiver, has not been allowed to visit since.
“She has not tested positive, as far as we know,” Ms. Carisse said. “But it’s pretty unnerving as a family member to sit back and watch it all come crumbling down. … You’re crossing your fingers and praying that she’s one of the ones it passes by. That’s all you can do at this point, really.”
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