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A volunteer with the Red Cross shows a doorway between beds in a mobile hospital set up in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross in the Jacques-Lemaire Arena in Montreal on April 26, 2020.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Residents in long-term care homes in B.C. will get pandemic support from the Canadian Red Cross – months after other provinces accepted a federal offer for aid.

Five care homes in the Lower Mainland will have Red Cross teams assigned to provide supplementary staffing to assist residents and to assess infection prevention and controls. The homes were not named.

“It’s intended, really, to support the quality of life in long-term care,” Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters.

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The threat of COVID-19 to seniors in care has been clear since the first outbreak in March, 2020, at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Seniors living in congregate settings account for the majority of deaths owing to the virus in B.C.

“Our teams are extremely well prepared for whatever they may encounter,” said Patrick Quealey, Canadian Red Cross vice-president for British Columbia and Yukon.

Mr. Quealey said the non-profit organization has been ready to provide support to the province since the start of the pandemic. Red Cross workers have expertise in dealing with highly-infectious diseases – mostly from work overseas – and will be outfitted with personal protective equipment. He said assessments are still being conducted to determine what is needed, but it is expected 100 workers will be deployed. All of them are expected to be provided with the COVID-19 vaccine before they take up their positions.

“We recognize that here in British Columbia, like across the rest of Canada, health care workers in our long-term care facilities have been working really hard over the last year with COVID,” Mr. Quealey said in an interview Tuesday. “We’ve been asked to support them, to lend a hand and to help them get a break, and to let them focus on those clinical aspects where we help out in a non-clinical domain.”

He could not say what has changed in B.C. to require help now. “When they asked, we obviously answered that call right away.”

B.C. is seeking support just as the number of outbreaks in facilities is starting to fall. Mr. Dix told reporters there are still 24 outbreaks in care homes that present challenges for exhausted staff, and where the quality of life of residents has suffered.

“It’s still a very challenging time in long-term care. I think in some respects it always is, but particularly in those facilities that are still undergoing outbreaks and challenges,” the Health Minister said, when asked why the province waited until now to ask for assistance.

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“This opportunity became available. We talked to the Red Cross. We asked them if they can provide these supports and we have come to an agreement with them to do that,” Mr. Dix said.

Roanda Anastasiades, whose mother is recovering from COVID-19 after an outbreak at the care home where she lives, said B.C. should have called in the Red Cross sooner.

“I can’t understand why it has taken so long,” Ms. Anastasiades said. Her mother, Diane Kubicek, contracted the virus in November at her home – a shared room at the Arbutus Care Centre in Vancouver. Ms. Anastasiades said the pandemic has stretched staff thin and has put vulnerable residents – including her frail mother – at risk of neglect.

“I do know that from my experience of what happened to my mother, these places need assistance,” she said. The pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges with understaffing, she added, and family members are trying to step up to fill in gaps.

“There is not enough help in these places, a lot of these staff are being placed in completely unimaginable and unfair positions.”

Last year, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba accepted an offer from Public Safety Canada to bring in Red Cross assistance to improve living conditions in care homes where the pandemic has stretched resources. Quebec has had Red Cross services since May, while Ontario did not call for assistance until October. Ottawa is paying for the Red Cross services in those three provinces, with $170-million set aside.

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B.C. has not asked for federal funding, and is paying the Red Cross for its work.

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