‘A hard reality’ for long-term-care as Hamilton facilities grapple with more deaths and cases

·4 min read

Long-term-care workers in Hamilton may soon get the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine, a major development for facilities facing increasingly bleak conditions.

“We’re hoping those will start within the next 10 days,” said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson in a media update Monday. The medical officer of health noted she expected to have more details “very shortly.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s deadliest outbreak continued to become worse over the weekend. Five deaths were reported since Friday at Grace Villa long-term-care home on the east Mountain, where Richardson said staffing concerns had been expressed “early on.”

That brings the total number of deaths at the facility to 26 over 26 days since the outbreak began Nov. 25. That far exceeds the deaths at the second-deadliest outbreak at Chartwell Willowgrove, where 18 people died.

Grace Villa also saw growth in cases with 20 more reported as of 3 p.m. on Dec. 21. The total number of cases in this outbreak now stands at 216, with 139 resident cases and 77 in staff.

While Chartwell Willowgrove remains the second-biggest outbreak with a cumulative 101 cases, fewer than 10 cases are currently active, according to provincial data.

Following closely behind is Shalom Village, with 100 cases since the outbreak began. The home in Westdale has now seen five deaths, along with 51 residents cases, 48 staff and one visitor case, according to city stats.

However, in a town hall Monday, the home’s interim CEO announced nine residents had died in the outbreak.

The outbreak at Shalom Village grew rapidly since it began Dec. 9. The campus consists of two buildings, each offering long-term-care, as well as seniors’ apartments and assisted living. While the outbreak started in the Shalom Village original building, it has since spread to multiple floors in both buildings.

“We went for almost nine months without one resident testing positive,” Levin said. “Within a week ... it’s just run through the house.”

In the long-term-care area of the original building, there are 43 cases spread over two floors. On the first floor, 15 residents have tested positive, with 28 cases on the second floor. Seven of those cases are now resolved, Levin said.

Within the seniors’ and assisted living apartments of the same building, nine residents have tested positive on the second, third and fourth floors. One of these residents has died.

The second building has a total of five cases in long-term-care spread over two of four floors. None of these has been resolved because they are newer cases, according to Levin.

In addition, three residents are in hospital and two essential visitors have also tested positive, he added.

Based on the numbers provided at the town hall, the number of cases at Shalom Village include 60 residents, two visitors and 59 staff, bringing the total to 121, surpassing the cases at Chartwell Willowgrove.

Levin added that because of staff testing positive and self-isolating, Shalom recruited food service and cleaning staff from outside agencies.

“Some of those staff are choosing not to come back to Shalom, that they need more time off,” he said, noting temporary staff are filling those positions. The home is also expecting to hire new permanent staff, he said.

St. Joseph’s hospital is also providing additional nursing staff to support the home’s response to the outbreak.

As to how the outbreak unfolded, Levin pointed to Hamilton public health’s conclusion that increased community transmission is the likely source.

Residents and staff alike go into the community for appointments and other needs, Levin said, and with COVID numbers rising “astronomically” in the community, the likelihood of a person becoming infected grows.

“We were doing everything that we know at the highest level to make sure that COVID never came in,” Levin said. “And yet it still did.”

The MPP for the riding where Shalom Village is located said the province didn’t act soon enough to increase staffing levels before the second wave.

“These deaths that we’re seeing at Chartwell Willowgrove, Grace Villa, as well as Shalom, were entirely preventable,” said Sandy Shaw, MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.

She pointed to the satellite hospital created in a Hamilton hotel and a field hospital in Ottawa as examples of co-ordinated responses to the COVID crisis.

“There is no plan for long-term-care,” Shaw said. “It’s like they’re putting out brush fires here, there and everywhere.”

In Hamilton’s first wave, residents in the Rosslyn Retirement Residence outbreak were transferred to hospital to deal with “critical” staffing shortages.

In Monday’s media update, Richardson said patients who no longer need hospital care but have not fully recovered can be moved elsewhere to free hospital beds.

“For long-term-care, there’s really nowhere else to move them,” she said. “By and large, it’s best to care for people where they are.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator