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People wait to be screened before entering Little Mountain Place in Vancouver on Jan. 3, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A Vancouver long-term care home where more than one-third of residents have died from COVID-19 in the past six weeks will be the subject of an investigation by British Columbia’s independent watchdog for seniors.

Isobel Mackenzie, the Seniors Advocate, says she is concerned for the welfare of the remaining residents at Little Mountain Place, and is calling on Vancouver Coastal Health to provide a full accounting of its response to the outbreak that has been, to date, the most lethal in the province.

As of Tuesday, 41 of 112 seniors have died since the outbreak was declared at the non-profit facility in late November. Seventy-one staff and 99 residents in total have been infected with the coronavirus, and families want better oversight.

Bernadette Cheung, whose grandmother Yuet Wan died of COVID-19 at Little Mountain, has been calling for an investigation to show how the care home responded to the outbreak. Ms. Mackenzie said there is frustratingly little information about conditions in the home.

“I am concerned,” Ms. Mackenzie said in an interview. “When your outbreak is affecting 70 of your staff members, what kind of care is being delivered to the people who are still living there?”

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Bernadette Cheung poses for a photograph outside Little Mountain Place, where her grandmother who passed away was a resident, in Vancouver on Jan. 7, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The majority of deaths owing to COVID-19 in British Columbia have been among seniors in long-term care facilities, and homes in every region of the province have recorded COVID-19 outbreaks. At six B.C. care homes, more than 20 residents have died of the disease. Ms. Mackenzie said her review will look at those few instances in which containment efforts have failed.

Her review will look at whether personal protective equipment is being used effectively, whether better screening for COVID-19 could have limited the spread of the virus, and whether families who have largely been kept out of care homes during the pandemic should be allowed in to provide essential care.

“We need to understand exactly why these outbreaks spread so rapidly in these care homes, when it didn’t happen in every care home,” she said.

Ms. Mackenzie said she wants answers, not just from the care-home operators, but from the health authorities that have the power to step in and take control if residents are not being safely cared for.

“Are we going to find that some things could have been done more quickly, that we could have been more aggressive on our testing, that we could have been more aggressive on our contact tracing? These are all questions we don’t know the answers to, and until we do, we can’t say whether or not they’ve done everything they can,” Ms. Mackenzie said.

Vancouver Coastal Health, as the regulatory agency, has not imposed an outside administrator at Little Mountain, but it sent in a support team on Nov. 22, the day the COVID-19 outbreak was declared.

Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal, said in an interview Tuesday the virus appears to have spread widely through Little Mountain before it was identified. “If we can identify it early enough, our guidelines work very well,” she said. “If there’s evidence that the virus was already widespread in a facility by the time we declare an outbreak, it can be much harder to bring it under control.”

She said the health authority has provided administrative support, and sent in more than 60 staff to help with patient care and cleaning. Currently there are 34 full-time staff from the health authority working to fill in for staff who are off sick, including an infection prevention and control practitioner to provide training and ensure staff are following appropriate precautions.

Dr. Daly said Little Mountain has higher staffing levels than the required minimums, because of the additional requirements such as feeding residents in their rooms rather than in the usual communal setting.

She said Vancouver Coastal will co-operate with the watchdog’s investigation. “We want to learn as much as we can from every outbreak, whether it’s one that was brought under control very quickly, or ones that were not so quick, and certainly we will co-operate with any questions from the Seniors Advocate.”

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