As Quebec copes with COVID-19 cases in more than 500 senior homes, the latest test results are showing B.C.’s response and staffing restrictions are containing infections before they spread.
As of April 1, there were 21 coronavirus-affected long-term care and assisted living facilities, all in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions, according to B.C. health ministry statistics. After two early outbreaks at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and the Haro Park Care Centre in Vancouver with multiple fatalities of frail seniors, results of health authority outbreak response team efforts have greatly improved.
“Both of those are really full-blown outbreaks where we have a number of both staff and residents who have been affected,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said March 31, when the total was 19 affected facilities. “But the other ones really reflect the fact that we have taken such an aggressive approach to monitoring, to testing and to preventing illness coming into our long-term care homes.”
Since the two early outbreaks, “the vast majority of them have a single person, either a staff person or a resident who was detected with this illness,” Henry said. “And we have been able to put in place the outbreak measures so that others are not affected, and people are effectively isolated or removed from the home, in terms of the health care workers, so we aren’t transmitting it.”
As of April 1, there have been 25 COVID-19 related deaths in B.C., with only one under the age of 70. Most of the other seniors have died in care facilities, usually with underlying respiratory or other chronic conditions. There were 142 people in B.C. hospitals, where statistics are showing people aged 20 and older can become seriously ill. More than 600 B.C. residents have recovered from the new coronavirus, including the affected health care workers.
In addition to restricting visitors, Henry has made two public health orders for care facility operators. The latest one restricts health care employees from working at more than one facility. It does not apply to doctors, nurse practitioners, paramedics, pharmacists or lab technicians.
“It is necessary for me to make this order to reduce the risk while a plan is being developed and processes are being put in place to provide for a centralized approach to the deployment of staff,” Henry’s order states.
At her April 2 briefing, Henry acknowledged that the ban on working in two or more facilities is so far only in place at the 21 COVID-19 affected facilities. With 20,000 staff at provincial and contracted care homes across the province, implementing the order is taking significant time, she said.
An earlier order directed contractors and sub-contractors to provide personal and employment-related information on all affected staff to the ministry, to begin a government-led allocation of staffing at contracted long-term care and assisted living facilities, and private hospitals.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Health Minister Adrian Dix had been working to increase care hours at facilities, most of which were not meeting the province’s minimum standard. He has also appointed administrators to supervise four care homes operated by Retirement Concepts, one each in Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox and Summerland.
In a report released in early February, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie highlighted that based on available financial data, non-profit care homes spent 59 per cent of their revenues on direct care, compared to 49 per cent of spending by for-profit contractors. She also found lower care aide wages on average in for-profit facilities.
B.C. has $1.3 billion in contracts between senior care contractors and regional health authorities, with about a third of senior facilities owned and operated directly by the health authorities.