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‘It’s changed how I live my life’: Grace Villa worker still recovering months after COVID landed her in ICU

Posted: July 30, 2021

(July 28, 2021)

By: Maria Iqbal, The Hamilton Spectator

Union calls for help

In Ontario, more than 7,200 COVID-19 cases have appeared in health-care workers linked to long-term care from Jan. 15, 2020, to July 26, 2021. Ten have died. But that’s not the full story.

“One of the untold stories of the pandemic is how many staff … got physically ill from COVID-19 and have never recovered,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. The numbers are “significant,” she says, but they’re not reported.

Remaining staff were stretched thin in homes with outbreaks. With high levels of burnout reported among LTC workers, staff counts are dropping drastically, Mehra added. That means worse standards of care.

“The expectations have lowered in very dangerous ways,” she said.

Back at Hamilton General Hospital, staff tried to improve Outridge’s oxygen levels. But she wasn’t doing well. Before long, Outridge was in the ICU.

In the meantime, her union, SEIU Healthcare, asked Premier Doug Ford to order a hospital takeover of Grace Villa — a call was supported by MPP Taylor — saying the pandemic’s impact on staffing was “severe.”

On Dec. 11, one day later, the union escalated its calls to the federal government. Now, they sought military intervention in “war-zone”-like conditionswhere there were neither enough PSWs to care for residents, nor enough cleaning staff for the “horrific” sanitary conditions, the letter said.

At this point, there were 50 staff and 77 resident cases at Grace Villa. Eleven residents had died.

Senior care needs ‘drastic changes’

Though the threat of COVID in seniors’ homes dramatically decreased with vaccines, Dr. Amit Arya says much work lies ahead to improving conditions in long-term care.

Homes with big outbreaks in the first two waves had “a huge turnover” of staff, said the palliative-care physician.

Arya, who was deployed into some of these facilities, said improving working conditions is an urgent issue that will, in turn, improve the life of residents.

“Those are really two sides of the same coin,” he said.

Basics like feeding, hydrating and bathing residents should be “non-negotiable and a given,” Arya added. But staff should also have enough time to sit down with residents and support them emotionally to improve their quality of life.

“It’s very clear after what happened during COVID-19 that our entire elder care system needs drastic changes.”

This is a snippet of the article. Click here to read the full article. (Note: Article accessible to Hamilton Spectator subscribers only).