Long-term care homes welcome emergency staffing order at critical point in pandemic

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It has been a difficult week for residents and staff in the community of St. Clair O’Connor in East York, as COVID-19 continues to take its toll on seniors in long-term care and to the people who work there.

Four residents, aged 85 to 91, died last week from the coronavirus.

“Successful residents have been able to connect with their families before” using FaceTime, Zoom and Skype, said Mary Hoare, the general manager. “It was really painful, but it was very satisfying for these families.”

In addition, 14 residents of the 25-bed facility are showing signs of the disease, as are seven staff. The grim story is similar across the province with nearly 50 deaths in long-term care facilities, and nearly 80 of the province’s approximately 750 retirement homes have reported cases of COVID-19.

Pinecrest in Bobcaygeon was the hardest hit with 22 deaths. Eight residents died at Seven Oaks in Scarborough, the most in the GTA.

Facilities such as the community of St. Clair O’Connor are fighting the pandemic in the short term. Many staff are at home in isolation and will not be allowed to return to work until they have successfully completed two COVID-19 tests within 24 hours.

“Public health follows them,” said Hoare. “Staffing was difficult because of the absent staff (because of the illness). We have succeeded. They all have protective gear. “

Help is on its way. On Friday, the province issued a temporary order – under the Emergency Management and Emergency Preparedness Act – that will help retirement homes meet emergency personnel needs, giving them more flexibility to recruit and reassign workers. The order breaks the wall between job titles, allowing nurses, personal support workers and others inside the facility to work beyond their strict roles.

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“We need them to be able to respond in the moment,” said Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association. “This is a difficult time for everyone. We had a critical workforce shortage before the pandemic, so this special order is fundamentally important to us. “

Duncan says her organization and others like her may need 30,000 temporary workers over the next six months, from a labor pool that could include: dental hygienists qualified in health care; licensed hotel cleaners; and certified food handlers in the restaurant industry.

“We know there is currently a workforce that is not working and that could provide temporary support,” said Duncan.

The problems in homes for the aged are vast. Hoare said his facility had “difficult conversations” with the families of the residents “about what would happen if their loved one received COVID and what care decisions they should make.

“We were fortunate to have had instructions from all the families on what to do. We have covered this well. And we make sure that the families of the residents are called every day because they cannot come to visit us. “

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Senior lawyer and advocate Laura Tamblyn Watts says some families are concerned that leaving loved ones in these facilities is the right thing to do during a pandemic. She developed a checklist to help them decide.

“The situation is dramatic in long-term care, but people need a handy tool to help them determine if they’re making things worse by bringing their loved one home,” said Tamblyn Watts. “It is a very serious consideration.

“There may be an emotional desire to do it, but there is a practical challenge to it. To get into long term care, you have to be so fragile and wanting that most people can’t take care of them at home, which is why they’re here to start. “

Some of the questions on the list are more practical: accessibility to the bathroom, if bed bars are required. Others are medical: proximity to a doctor, physiotherapy, safety for someone with dementia.

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Tamblyn Watts said the number of deaths and cases of COVID-19 is likely to be much higher than that reported, as older adults are given low priority for testing.

“They’re going to test up to three people and that’s it. After that, everyone is supposed to have it. We don’t have real data – that real number – on the number of deaths in long-term care, “said Tamblyn Watts. “With the limited number of test kits, long-term care is at the bottom of people’s priority lists and at the top of their hearts and minds.”

Kevin McGran



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