B.C. associations involved in seniors’ care have set up a working group in response to the new coronavirus, hoping to streamline communications between government officials and operators of seniors’ facilities.
The communications push follows the death of a man at a long-term care home in North Vancouver. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the death, believed to be the first COVID-19 death in Canada, on Monday.
Plans for the working group emerged over the weekend and the first of what is expected to be a daily briefing call between operators and a deputy minister is expected to take place Tuesday, said Daniel Fontaine, chief executive officer of the BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA), which represents about 340 non-government operators around the province.
“We’ll be able to use our communication channels to be able to get information out to the field in a much more expedited and co-ordinated manner than perhaps we have been doing in the last couple of weeks,” Mr. Fontaine said.
The group will include representatives from SafeCare BC, an agency focused on worker safety; BC Seniors Living Association, which represents private retirement-home operators; the Denominational Health Association, representing faith-based facilities; and the BCCPA.
The Lynn Valley Care Centre, where the man died, was not a member of the BCCPA, but the group has been closely monitoring developments, Mr. Fontaine said.
The provincial response will be made more challenging by some elements of the seniors’ care system, including employees who may work at more than one location, increasing the risk of transmission, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said.
“You’ve got a staff where – particularly the care aides, and that’s over three-quarters of the staffing in a care home – a number of them are casual. … We’re asking them to stay home when they may not get paid to stay home. And they are low-paid to start with. And they may work in multiple jobs," Ms. Mackenzie said.
Relatives of family members at the North Vancouver facility told CTV News they had been feeding and caring for residents after some care workers refused to work.
Mr. Dix acknowledged that health-care workers at the Lynn Valley Care Centre are working under challenging conditions.
“There are obviously going to be challenges in a care home facing this kind of thing,” he said. “Vancouver Coastal Health is working very heavily to recruit more support for people in the care home, and to ensure that those issues are addressed," he said Monday at a news conference.
Within the past year, B.C. has taken control of several facilities run by a private operator over safety concerns.
In February, provincial health inspectors concluded, after a series of site visits, that operator Retirement Concepts was unable to meet the legislated standards of care for residents at a 112-bed care home in Summerland, B.C.
It became the fourth home owned by the operator in which health authorities have intervened because of the neglect of seniors. Concerns have been raised about the care of vulnerable seniors since 2017, when the federal government approved the sale of Retirement Concepts to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group.
Asked whether the COVID-19 outbreak could result in increased government oversight, Ms. Mackenzie said every facility licensed by the province is required to have a disease outbreak plan and that monitoring has already increased.
Health-care workers are experienced in dealing with outbreaks, said Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union.
“But I think there is no question that pressure on our health-care system and on our members is going to ramp up in the days and weeks ahead – and we are certainly hearing some of that anxiety from members,” Ms. Whiteside said.
“And we have to ensure that we have very clear lines of communication to all workers who are potentially exposed,” she said, adding that those workers include custodial and clerical workers, as well as health-care staff.
The outbreak will put more mental and physical demands on nursing staff who are already caring for frail, elderly residents, said Christine Sorensen, BC Nurses’ Union president.
“With the increasing complexity of these elderly patients, we are concerned that there are not enough nurses in these facilities,” said Ms. Sorensen, saying union members have reported overseeing as many as 100 residents on a night shift.
Both Ms. Whiteside and Ms. Sorensen urged family members to reconsider visits to seniors’ residences, saying health-care workers need to focus on keeping themselves and residents healthy.
“There’s a lot that the public can do to help health-care workers in this situation,” Ms. Whiteside said.
With a report from Andrea Woo