Grace Villa’s owners didn’t act in time to address staffing problems before its COVID outbreak, alleges a retired nurse who worked at the home in the lead up to a deadly outbreak.
Lorelei Brown is a registered practical nurse who taught students at Grand Health Academy training to be personal support workers (PSWs) before her recent retirement. She supervised eight students completing volunteer hours at Grace Villa.
“I teach my students (that) if they walk by a call bell that’s ringing and they don’t answer it, that’s considered neglect,” said Brown, who was at Grace Villa from early November until a couple days into its outbreak. But she could understand how, during an outbreak, it would be “logistically impossible” to do everything.
“In my mind’s eye, I can see a PSW standing in the middle of the hallway and seeing three call lights on and not knowing where to start,” Brown said. “At that point in time, everybody needed so much and there just would never have been enough staff to cover it.”
Brown spoke to The Spectator following disturbing reports of alleged neglect at Grace Villa. In a series of letters released by MPP Monique Taylor this week, workers described horrific scenes of residents lying in urine-soaked beds, neglectful sanitary conditions and preventable deaths.
The outbreak lasted from Nov. 25 to Jan. 20, resulting in 234 cases of COVID-19 and 44 deaths.
Grace Villa’s operator, APANS Health Services, called the letters “deeply concerning.”
“We are continually reviewing our response throughout the outbreak,” said CEO Mary Raithby on Tuesday. She said Grace Villa’s staff “pour their hearts and energy into their work each day.”
“We are humbled by their dedication and are saddened that some may have felt they did not have the resources or support as needed to do their jobs,” she added. “Our leadership team is working tirelessly to ensure everyone has the knowledge, training and resources to safely care for our residents now and in the future.”
Brown’s students were finishing their hours just as the outbreak began, so Brown could not comment on how the rest of the outbreak played out. But she says APANS should have addressed staffing sooner
Staffing was a “long-standing problem” in every home Brown worked in — about 10 across Hamilton, Dundas and Burlington. “The pandemic just exacerbated it,” she said.
At Grace Villa, Brown said staff were not allowed to work in multiple homes even before the province made that a rule, creating a shortage from the outset.
The rule stopped staff from working in more than one home to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to different facilities. In an email late Friday, Raithby did not confirm if the home had introduced the rule prior to the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s directive.
“Grace Villa followed the single-site directive as released by the ministry ... to protect residents in long-term-care homes,” she said, noting, however, that some Grace Villa staff left to work with their other employers.
“Grace Villa implemented strategies to enhance staffing such as offering full-time hours to our part-time staff, hiring additional staff and increasing agency staff in the home,” Raithby added.
But Brown said, when she was there, “every shift there was one area that was short,” particularly PSWs. If there were supposed to be five staff working at a time, there might be only four, for example.
Staffing remains a problem at homes across the province.
“We didn’t staff-up in the summer,” said Jane Meadus, staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly. “We were already dealing with a shortage and you can’t just wave a magic wand and create staff.”
About two days into the outbreak, Brown’s students completed their hours and left — creating an even bigger gap, Brown said.
She said Grace Villa’s internal administrators approached her and contacted the school — as did other Hamilton homes — to ask for more students to complete their hours there. But only one student chose to stay at Grace Villa.
Grace Villa’s director and associate director of clinical services did not respond when asked late Friday if they sought Brown’s help.
Brown said Grace Villa’s administrators tried their best. “They did everything they possibly could. They weren’t negligent,” she said.
But if there had been more hands-on workers, it would have improved care. “That would have prevented dehydration,” Brown said, noting residents can take up to 20 minutes to feed. “You have to cajole, you have to coax, you have to give them it by the teaspoonful. When you’ve got 30 residents to feed, you can’t do that.”
The Ontario Health Coalition warns there are “dozens” of homes in large outbreaks across Ontario with “chaotic and filthy” conditions, “where the residents are not getting fed and hydrated and bathed and very basic care.”
“Aside from being heartbroken for those residents and their families and the staff, I’m furious,” said executive director Natalie Mehra, about Grace Villa. “The lessons from the first wave have not been learnt.”
Brown says it comes down to needing action from a home’s operator and administrators.
“There’s so many things that go on in nursing homes that the people that have the white coats and clipboards don’t even know about,” she said. “They should have got help in there faster.”
—With files from Joanna Frketich
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator