N.S. facilities for people with disabilities grappling with Omicron

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Joyce D'Entremont, CEO of Mountains and Meadows Care Group, says staff at the eight provincially-funded facilities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities have gone above and beyond during this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)
Joyce D'Entremont, CEO of Mountains and Meadows Care Group, says staff at the eight provincially-funded facilities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities have gone above and beyond during this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)

The eight provincially-funded facilities for people with physical and intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia are grappling with the effects of the latest wave of COVID-19, the head of a care group said Thursday.

Joyce d'Entremont, CEO for Mountains and Meadows Care Group, said the coronavirus is currently in all facilities to some degree, ranging from a few confirmed cases among staff or residents to full-blown outbreaks.

She said Omicron has been hitting harder than previous waves of COVID-19.

"Because this Omicron is so contagious, we all know it's a matter of time before we have positive residents or staff," said d'Entremont in an interview on Thursday.

d'Entremont oversees two provincially-funded adult residential centres: Meadows Community in Bridgetown, N.S., and Harbourside Lodge in Yarmouth, N.S.

Citing privacy, she would not confirm which of the eight centres in the province are or were experiencing outbreaks, but confirmed Harbourside is currently on the tail end of an outbreak.

Staffing shortages plaguing centres

She said 18 of the facility's 21 residents tested positive, and they were unable to create cohorts because of the design of the old facility.

"But even though a lot of the residents were positive, we saw very little illness, and I think it's because the participants were vaccinated," said d'Entremont, who is also the chair of Diverse Abilities Nova Scotia, a non-profit organization that advocates for people with disabilities.

d'Entremont said representatives of all eight facilities have been meeting weekly to support each other and discuss ways to mitigate this wave of the pandemic.

She said staff at all the facilities are tired, but are extremely dedicated and have been working tirelessly amid widespread staffing shortages.

She added that she's hearing from her colleagues that they have also not been dealing with severe illness in residents who have tested positive.

Still, this wave of the pandemic has been putting pressure on the centres, as they struggle to cope with the staffing pressures due to isolation requirements and confirmed cases, like many in the health-care sector.

Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., which is home to 159 residents, also recently dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19, as revealed in documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

N.S. won't confirm outbreaks

The province has declined to disclose details on that outbreak and others, citing privacy.

In a statement on Thursday, Community Services Department spokesperson Christina Deveau said Public Health works directly with operators of congregate settings to manage and respond to outbreaks.

"However, since the start of the pandemic, Public Health has not publicly reported outbreaks in all congregate settings," said Deveau.

"The focus has been on the settings with the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19 — long-term care facilities and hospitals."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Private congregate living facilities are also dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19.

Victoria Levack lives at Arborstone Enhanced Care in Halifax, one of the few nursing homes in the province to offer long-term care for young adults with special needs.

Bring in the military, says resident

Levack, who is a spokesperson for the Disability Rights Coalition of Nova Scotia, said seven residents have tested positive for COVID-19 — a number Shannex confirmed — and some staff are off due to COVID-19 isolations.

"I used to think I was crazy for suggesting this, but I don't think that's crazy anymore. We need to call in the military to go into these homes to provide extra support," said Levack.

"People are not getting showers because we don't have the staff."

In a statement, Shannex spokeperson Gill Costello said eight employees are not in the workplace at Arborstone Enhanced Care due to COVID-19 cases, but are scheduled to return to work next week.

Levack said the current outbreak highlights the risks of living in a care facility during a pandemic.

"Obviously the more people you have to put in place, the more likely it is for illnesses to spread," she said.

Communication concerns

Levack also raised concerns about a lack of clear communication from officials at the Shannex-run facility about what the current protocols are. She said as of Thursday, she was told she not allowed to leave her room except for meals.

"The rules are changing so constantly that everyone is confused," she said, adding it's not just residents who have expressed confusion, but also staff.

"And how far are they able to go with taking away our autonomy?" Levack said.

Costello said the management team at Arborstone is in regular contact with residents, families and teams to answer questions and provide updates on the situation.

"There is nothing more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of our residents and we know we hold their trust," said Costello.

"We're transparent about our challenges and we are willing to share openly about what we're going through because we know this is an uncertain time for everyone."

Costello said Shannex works closely with Public Health and follows its direction for testing, isolation and other infection prevention and control measures. The company said it also has its own occupational health and wellness team and an infection prevention and control specialist to ensure residents receive the best care possible.

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