COVID-19 strikes 24 seniors homes in Eastern Health as owners call for more rapid tests

·3 min read
Shaun Lane owns long-term care homes in Kippens and Grand Falls-Windsor. (Krissy Holmes/CBC - image credit)
Shaun Lane owns long-term care homes in Kippens and Grand Falls-Windsor. (Krissy Holmes/CBC - image credit)
Krissy Holmes/CBC
Krissy Holmes/CBC

Eastern Health has confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks at a total of 24 care homes in the region.

In an email to CBC News on Friday, a spokesperson for the health authority said eight of the outbreaks are in Eastern Health long-term care facilities and 16 are in privately-owned personal care homes, community care homes or assisted living facilities.

The spokesperson also said Eastern Health considers an outbreak a situation where one or more people, residents or employees, tests positive for COVID-19 with a PCR test.

CBC was not able to obtain statistics on outbreaks in long-term care for the three other regional health authorities.

However, outbreaks have already been reported at seniors homes in Bay St. George, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Kippens.

We need to have every tool that's in our toolbox. - Shaun Lane

As long-term care facilities around the province grapple with the virus, one owner is calling for better access to rapid tests.

Shaun Lane, owner of Silverwood Manor in Kippens, where 43 staff and residents tested positive for COVID-19, says the situation highlights the need for more rapid tests.

"We need to have every tool that's in our toolbox to come so that this situation doesn't happen," said Lane, who is also president of the Personal Care Home Association.

"We really feel the government needs to step up and give us the tools to help us make sure that whoever is coming into our building has been properly tested."

'A difficult number of days'

Lane said starting 2022 with three-quarters of staff and nine of ten residents testing positive made for a "difficult number of days."

Lane said Western Health offered "zero help" at first, but eventually sent in a nurse practitioner and some registered nurses. Community volunteers stepped in as well.

"It was one of those times when you really see the best in humanity," Lane said.

While Lane said he's "really, really happy" to see many staff and residents on the mend, he feels better access to rapid tests would have made for a less severe start to the year.

A rapid response

Lane said after waiting "for a number of weeks," rapid tests did arrive at his long-term care homes and were put to swift use.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Two staff members immediately tested positive, and were promptly sent home.

Silverwood has since enacted a policy requiring all staff to self-test before anybody can return to work.

Lane said he hopes the government will soon get to work on revamping its own rapid test policy: The current one provides enough kits to test every few days, Lane said. Additional tests are at the expense of operators.

"I just really don't think that testing once every three days gives us the best shot," he said.

"Give us a policy that gives us the very best chance of identifying the virus within our staff so they can stay out of the building … I really feel it's the government's responsibility to give us the tools that we can protect our most vulnerable citizens."

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