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Paramedics leave the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, on March 9, 2020.Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

The North Vancouver nursing home that had Canada’s first death from COVID-19 says a prank call from someone purporting to be with the local health authority hampered its initial response to its March outbreak, which ended up killing 19 other residents.

On Tuesday, the Lynn Valley Care Centre sent media an open letter alleging “a serious security threat” posed by a caller in the early morning of March 8. That was two days after the for-profit long-term care home was alerted that one of its workers had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and a day after the Vancouver Coastal Health authority had arrived on scene to oversee an outbreak protocol.

The letter did not explain what the caller said because their comments are the subject of an RCMP investigation. But the letter stated staff “took immediate action” to deal with the allegation that caused “needless fear among residents and their families” and made workers even more reluctant to come to work.

Sergeant Peter DeVries, spokesperson for the RCMP’s North Vancouver detachment, said Tuesday that a suspect in the hoax was arrested “in recent weeks,” but no charges have been recommended to the provincial Crown.

Sgt. DeVries said the administration of the nursing home filed a complaint with the RCMP on March 9 and that Mounties are not releasing any more information about their investigation.

On March 6, Lynn Valley announced it had an outbreak. Two days later, it had the first death among the 20 residents eventually killed by the virus. A Globe and Mail investigation found staff and relatives of residents were critical of the disorganized response from management and a trio of subcontractors to the initial outbreak, which infected 79 staff and residents before being declared over in early May.

This month, all but three of the 88 care aides at Lynn Valley voted to join the Hospital Employees’ Union, a move labour organizers said was a response to the way the centre reacted to the coronavirus ravaging its facility.

Noori Shahkar, head administrator of the nursing home owned by the local Sherkat family, e-mailed a statement to The Globe last month saying Lynn Valley is in the process of reviewing how it responded to the fatal cluster of infections and would share its results.

In Tuesday’s unsigned letter, Lynn Valley said the hoax by the caller led to more understaffing in those crucial first days of the outbreak.

“And it diverted valuable time and resources away from our capacity to work at a time when we faced the greatest challenge in our centre’s history,” the letter stated.

Kelly Shellard said she was there that first weekend of the outbreak helping her 82-year-old father Bill Shellard and other residents by giving them their food because so few staff were on site. She said care aides might not have showed up because of word of this hoax, but conditions were likely already scary enough for them to reconsider re-entering a facility that had a rash of new infections.

Ms. Shellard said she is more concerned that her father hasn’t been taken out of the building in the past 4½ months because of understaffing at Lynn Valley.

“My poor father is stuck in his room because they don’t have enough care aides to take him outside to even enjoy the sunshine. That’s what they should be dealing with right now – not some hoax that happened on March the 8th,” she said.

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