Northwood CEO confident there won't be another COVID-19 outbreak at facility

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Northwood CEO Janet Simm says with growing COVID-19 case counts in the community, it increases the likelihood of a positive case at the long-term care home. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)
Northwood CEO Janet Simm says with growing COVID-19 case counts in the community, it increases the likelihood of a positive case at the long-term care home. (Craig Paisley/CBC - image credit)

The head of the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax is confident a case of COVID-19 at the facility won't turn into an outbreak.

During the first wave of the pandemic last year, 345 residents and staff got sick and 53 residents died due to COVID-19, making it the epicentre of the outbreak in the province.

"We're fairly confident," said Northwood CEO Janet Simm. "Again, COVID-19 is a tricky virus and the variants, so we're doing everything we can."

A member of the direct care team, made up of licensed practical nurses and continuing care assistants, was asymptomatic for COVID-19 and last worked on April 23. That worker has since tested positive and is off work, along with four co-workers who are in isolation.

Between 40 to 60 residents on two floors — 1 and 8 Centre — have been potentially exposed and are being isolated in their rooms and tested.

Northwood Halifax is the largest long-term care home in the province.
Northwood Halifax is the largest long-term care home in the province.(Robert Guertin/CBC)

More than 90 per cent of residents at Northwood have been vaccinated, and physical distancing has increased. About 350 residents live at the care home, mostly in single rooms, although there are couples living in the same room and some people have asked for a roommate.

Last year, 485 people lived there, with many of them living in double or even triple-occupancy rooms.

Another factor is the high COVID immunization rate among staff. Simm said more than 80 per cent of staff are vaccinated.

At Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said that during the third wave of the pandemic in Canada, cases at long-term care homes have resulted "in modest spread, at best, and people have had very mild illness."

"Long-term care gives us the least anxiety ... we have high rates of coverage in our residents and we know that gives them good protection," he said. "We're working to increase the rates of vaccination in our staff."

There are 2,000 employees at Northwood's Halifax and Bedford campuses. At any given time, there are between 500 to 550 workers on site in Halifax.

Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says high vaccination rates have helped prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes during the third wave of the pandemic.
Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang says high vaccination rates have helped prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes during the third wave of the pandemic.(CBC)

Simm said after being vaccinated, workers continue to wear PPE. Ideally, she said every staff member would be immunized, but said a few workers are ineligible because of health reasons or because of their doctor's recommendation.

But there are a few skeptics who have "some of that hesitancy," Simm said.

For some workers, it's been a question of access. Simm said Northwood is hoping to get some on-site vaccinations for them.

For residents who have enjoyed near-normal freedoms, returning to the hardship of being locked down in their rooms has been a challenge, she said.

However, during this wave, vaccinated designated caregivers wearing a medical mask and a face shield are allowed to continue to visit.

Simm said she's disappointed — but not surprised — COVID-19 has reappeared at the facility.

"We are a reflection of what's happening in the community," she said. "Every day that those numbers went up, the odds of Northwood having an individual who's positive or had been exposed entering our building certainly grow."

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