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Sudbury has been lucky so far

Posted: April 19, 2020

(April 18, 2020)

By: Harold Carmichael, Sudbury Star (Print Edition)

With patients and staff in nursing homes across southern Ontario having been diagnosed COVID-19 – leading to death in some cases – how are nursing homes across Sudbury faring? So far, so good: no coronavirus-positive cases have been reported here.

In speaking to the administrators of the city’s long-term care facilities, it appears stringent monitoring and isolation has so far kept the virus – which is particularly dangerous to seniors and anyone with a compromised immune system – away.

“We have been very diligent to this point in regard to monitoring residents for symptoms,” said Kari Gervais, vice-president of clinical services at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, which operates the 128-bed St. Joseph’s Villa in Sudbury and the 128-bed Villa St. Gabriel long-term care facilities in Chelmsford.

“At least twice a day, we are doing a temperature check to monitor for any emerging symptoms or any change in them. Oftentimes with frail, older clients, it can be something a little more subtle that is indicative of COVID-19. If someone has even one symptom, we immediately do the swabs and get it out (for testing).”

In a test comes back positive, Gervais said the resident would be put in isolation. “It would automatically trigger a declaration of a facility-wide outbreak,” she said.

Gervais said residents are checked numerous times each day and members are thoroughly screened coming in and on their way out at the end of the day.

“Even if it’s something as simple as the common cold, we are getting them tested,” she said.

As for a provincial directive that a nursing home worker can now only work at one facility, Gervais said St. Joseph’s Health Centre was a step ahead.

“Every one of us in the long-term care sector has already started this well before the directive was out. We actually had a handful of staff who have been working at other locations and we strongly urged them to curtail that as much as possible.”

Both facilities also are restricting visits by family members except for emergencies or the failing health.

That restriction, said Gervais, has led to “parking lot” visits by family members who communicate with residents through windows.

“It’s just so wonderful to see the support our family members are giving, not only our residents but our staff,” she said, noting that looking out her window, a father and two young children could be seen waving at a resident standing at a window.

“We have had a lot of people call in to express their thanks and gratitude in protecting their loved ones.”

Other preventive steps include the suspension of communal dining and staff wearing facemasks.

Gervais said long-term care facilities in the North saw what was happening in the south and took preventative steps.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” she said. “We have the benefit of learning from other people’s experiences.” St. Joseph’s Health Centre is also providing nursing care to alternate-level-of-care patients from Health Sciences North that have been temporarily moved to rooms at the Clarion Hotel downtown. That was done starting last week to free up beds for critical care purposes for coronavirus-positive cases at the hospital.

It’s a safety similar story at other nursing homes in Greater Sudbury, which have imposed similar measures to keep the virus out.

David Munch, chief executive officer at Finlandia Village, which features a variety of accommodations including 280 assisted-living apartments and townhouses, and the 110-bed long-term care Hoivakoti facility, said they have been in full lockdown since early March.

“We were trying to stay ahead of events we were seeing in the other parts of the world … We have no reported cases at this time. In large part, it’s due to the screening measures …

“It’s unprecedented. We have never done anything like this at the facility … If the coronavirus comes into Finlandia Village, it’s because someone brought it here.”

Munch said Finlandia said has been recruiting staff, especially since the Ford government announced a plan this week to address COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario’s long-term care homes. A key measure is that a person who works in the nursing home field in the province can only work at one facility.

Munch said of the 260 staff now working at the facility, five to 10 people could be affected by that particular directive.

“They are primarily part-time,” he said. “Anytime you lose trained, qualified people, it’s a hit … The goal now is we have to recruit people to cover those (part-time) shifts.”

Munch said by hiring high school, university and college students, and food industry and hotel sector workers, Finlandia Village has been able to cover the loss of full-time people who stepped back when the coronavirus pandemic got rolling in Canada.

Munch said the facility has a good supply of personal protective equipment, but, if a resident tests positive, it could diminish quickly due to employees having to use new equipment with each visit to that person’s room.

He also has a theory of why COVID-19 has been hitting cities to the south so hard. “I think it has a big part to do with international travel and population density,” he said. “In the big cities, you have people living on top of people. In the North, we are somewhat spread out. Hopefully, we can contain this disease in the North.”

Pioneer Manor is a city-run nursing home with 433 beds. This week, the facility issued its second letter to residents and indicated that no positive cases had cropped up and that preventatives measures seem to be helping.

“Every member of the Pioneer Manor team is doing extraordinary work; putting residents, families and their colleagues first to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated the letter. “We continue to monitor the situation closely and at this time, there are no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the Home.

“Residents exhibiting any symptoms consistent with the virus are being tested and placed on isolation immediately. As a further safety measure, residents who may have been in close contact with the resident (i.e. shared a room) are also being tested and placed on isolation immediately.”

The Ford government announced a plan to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario’s long-term care homes this week, but those measures are not enough, warned the Ontario Health Coalition.

The coalition called for more screening and testing, and that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should not be admitted to a long-term care home.

Two activists in Sudbury also have their concerns. Dorothy (Dot) Klein, a co-chair of the Ontario Health Coalition’s Sudbury chapter, expressed some of them in a letter to Aaron Archibald, manager of Pioneer Manor.

Klein said Sudburians want assurances that residents and seniors who live in long-term care homes will be transferred to Health Sciences North for care if needed, which would include access to a respirator/ventilator if needed.

“No Sudburian should be denied this available option because of their age, disability, economics and/or living arrangement,” Klein wrote. “Respirators/ventilators are only available at (Health Sciences North) in our region.”

Like others, she stressed the need for more testing.

Klein also noted that staff members were replacing volunteers at Pioneer Manor at no cost to assist with the meals and other needs of the residents, “plus working their assigned shifts.”

In addition, Klein was concerned Pioneer Manor was short of personal support workers.

“The citizens of Sudbury deserve better. Sudburians want honest, open and transparent communication. Sudburians value all their citizens -the old, the young, the disabled, the vulnerable, the rich, the poor and everyone in between. We want to work in solidarity with everyone. Together we can win this war against COVID-19 but we must do it together.”

Nancy Johnson, a retired occupational health and safety specialist in Greater Sudbury, is concerned workers at Ontario nursing homes are not being adequately protected from exposure to the virus.

“I’m happy and relieved we haven’t had anything yet, but the problem lies at the top: the premier and the prime minister (and) who they are relying on,” she said. “Until they get better direction, better advice at the top about protecting workers in the nursing homes, I’m afraid we are going to have another SARS..”

Johnson was involved in occupational health and safety for the Ontario Nurses’Association and spent 12 years as the ONA representative on an Ontario Pandemic Steering Committee working on a pandemic plan for the province. she said some parts of Ontario’s Action Plan are just plain wrong, such as allowing a nursing home or long-term care facility worker to go back to work because they are asymptomatic, meaning they have COVID-19, but have no symptoms.

“We know now that asymptomatic can transmit the disease,” she said. “These directives are dangerous. They are leading to problems for not just workers, but also the nursing home operators trying to comply with the process.”

Johnson is also co-chair of the Grand Family Council of the City of Greater Sudbury and co-chair of the Northeast Family Councils Network, both of which represent people in nursing homes.

In a letter Johnson sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she said health-care workers are being denied “appropriate respiratory protection to keep them from breathing in this virus. Your PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada) officials may be well-intended, but they are relying on eclipsed science to advise you in your policy.”

Johnson was one of those who studied the SARS outbreak and worked on the findings of Justice Archie Campbell’s SARS Commission report about what went wrong in Ontario.

“After examining volumes of evidence, including grinding scientific debate, he ended with a clarion call that in future infectious disease outbreaks we need to follow the precautionary principle. When science is not certain, err on the side of safety.

“Yet as we enter the COVID-19 battle, it’s as though Canadian governments, following your lead, have abandoned this very solid, evidence-based principle.”

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