Public health training long-term-care staff — again
COVID-19 infection control measures not being followed at some homes
Niagara’s public health department has had to bolster its efforts to help long-term-care homes cope with COVID-19 outbreaks because of lax infection control measures even after intensive training, says the region’s acting medical officer of health.
Dr. Mustafa Hirji said Thursday public health officials have found a few days after staff at the facilities with the worst outbreaks received instructions, infection control measures were not being maintained.
“What we have found is that those measures are in place for a few days and then they are falling off,” said Hirji. “So we are there now very regularly. Some staff work on different shifts, so we are trying to come in at different times to ensure we can catch everyone.”
There are six Niagara long-termcare homes with COVID-19 outbreaks, but three of them — Seasons
Retirement Community and Royal Rose Place in Welland and Lundy Manor in Niagara Falls — are the epicentre of the pandemic locally.
The other three homes — Henley House in St. Catharines, Bethesda in Lincoln and Woodlands of Sunset in
Pelham — only have a few cases and, so far, appear to have followed outbreak control measures, Hirji said.
“We are testing staff and residents who share rooms or live next to
someone with COVID-19 so hopefully we can catch any additional cases before those outbreaks get worse,” Hirji said.
Of the three homes hardest hit by COVID-19, Hirji said it is important to give staff “full marks” for working in very difficult and dangerous environments to look after vulnerable residents — particularly as dozens of staff have been sickened by the virus causing staffing shortages.
He said those shortages are resulting in homes bringing in replacement staff who may not have adequate infection control measures.
However, he said, the only way to stop outbreaks is to consistently apply infection control measures. In recent weeks, public health has found some long-term care staff are not using disinfectants and personal protective equipment properly.
“It is disappointing to see
those measures not followed after we have had many, many discussions with homes about what needs to be done,” he said.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 10 homes that had COVID-19 outbreaks. Four of them have been declared over and Hirji hopes the three homes with only a few cases will be in the clear soon.
The difference between a home that can effectively contain an outbreak is the strength of their infection control measures, he said. Royal Rose continues to have the most cases, with 68 residents and 47 staff infected. Thirteen residents with the virus have died.
Lundy Manor, which has had 18 resident deaths, has not had a new case since April 19, and Hirji said if that trend continues, the outbreak may end in the near future.
With many of its residents recovered, Seasons looked like it was on its way out of its outbreak, which has claimed the lives of seven residents. But recent
testing of asymptomatic residents found new cases, resetting the outbreak clock.
While Hirji would not comment directly on staff at Henley House saying they are being denied protective equipment, particularly N95 respirator masks, he did say staff in longterm-care homes with outbreaks should be wearing the same equipment as hospital clinical staff.
“Absolutely they should be,” Hirji said.
He said homes should have adequate supplies to ensure their staff have the gear they need and the training on how to put it on and take it off without increasing the risk of virus transmission.
Long-term-care home cases comprise about 32 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Niagara since the first case was found in a St. Catharines retirement home on March 13.
Five new cases announced Thursday — most of them linked to the outbreaks — bring
Niagara’s historic total of COVID-19 cases to 483. At least 45 people with the virus have died, 38 of them being long-termcare residents.
The rate of new daily cases continues to fall even as testing increases. The Niagara Health hospital system, which is conducting the bulk of local testing, is now testing as many as 400 patients a day. To date, 7,518 people have been tested by the hospital system and 335 of them, or 4.45 per cent, have tested positive for COVID-19.
Hirji said the declines in the infection rate is due in large measure to the public taking physical distancing and hand hygiene seriously. However, he said the pandemic is not over and those measures will remain critical even as the province looks to start opening up the economy.
“The more people follow those measures voluntarily, the more room it will give the government to open things up,” he said.
Seasons Retirement Community in Welland has been hit hard by COVID-19, making it even more important to maintain infection control measures.