Province intervenes at Grace Villa — Hamilton’s biggest and deadliest outbreak

·5 min read

The province has intervened at the growing and increasingly deadly outbreak at Grace Villa long-term care facility by giving a local hospital control over the home.

According to a release from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) on Wednesday, the hospital is “assuming temporary management responsibility” of Grace Villa “effective immediately” through a management agreement approved by the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

“Today’s agreement gives HHS full management and operational control over the residence, to manage the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and stabilize the situation,” said an email statement from HHS spokesperson Mary Siegner.

“The situation has progressed to a point where significant hospital support and resources are needed,” the email said. “To do that, a formal agreement is required.”

This is the first time the province has handed over management of a Hamilton long-term care home to a hospital.

On Nov. 28, Hamilton public health ordered Grace Villa to allow HHS staff to monitor, investigate and respond to the outbreak. That meant providing expertise for infection prevention and control, testing, direct care for residents, and cleanliness and nutrition support, according to Siegner.

She noted the hospital’s new responsibilities include: supervising and directing staff; daily operational decision-making; managing finances, vendors, and service providers; education and training; and carrying out a “continuous quality-improvement program” at Grace Villa.

“Grace Villa’s clinical team and staff will continue to play a vital and active role in managing this outbreak,” she added, noting the agreement “was entered into amicably by all parties.”

HHS said that the hospital was in the process of assessing staff and resources for deployment.

The announcement comes the same day Grace Villa surpassed Chartwell Willowgrove in becoming the deadliest outbreak in the city.

A 19th death from the outbreak was reported by Hamilton public health on Wednesday. A man in his early 90s from Grace Villa died Dec. 15. The province, however, reported 20 deaths as of Dec. 16.

In an interview, Monique Taylor, MPP for Hamilton Mountain, the riding where Grace Villa is located, said she received a report of a new death at the home Wednesday afternoon, as well as a new staff case.

“I would say that the conditions are not improving as per the staff, as per the continued rise in numbers of COVID (cases),” said Taylor, who said she’s in direct contact with staff working inside Grace Villa.

Taylor and the union representing the home’s workers had previously called on the province to intervene in the outbreak, which now has 177 cumulative cases, including 118 resident cases and 59 staff cases. City spokesperson Jacqueline Durlov declined to release active case counts for the outbreak, saying “the numbers are preliminary and subject to change.”

According to the province, there are 70 active resident cases and 26 active staff cases as of Dec. 16.

On Dec. 10, SEIU Healthcare, the union representing 183 workers at Grace Villa, sent a letter to the province seeking intervention.

“We’re calling on your government to immediately issue management orders ... to have a local public hospital take over operational management, like Hamilton Health Sciences for Grace Villa Nursing Home, for example,” said the letter from Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare.

Taylor supported the call in a separate letter sent Dec. 11.

“I am seeking provincial intervention to develop a clear, transparent plan for this home, which is experiencing staffing shortages and burnout,” she wrote. “I support the call from SEIU for management orders to have a local hospital take over operations.”

The union later escalated its calls to the federal government, seeking military intervention at the home, where they said staff levels were so low that sanitary conditions were being compromised.

“Spread of the virus means there are not enough people providing hands-on care to seniors at the facility,” Stewart said in the letter to the federal government. “The situation has been described as a ‘war zone’ and the sanitary conditions are so horrific that psychological help was suggested for those staff working on the front line.”

The provincial agreement is in effect for 90 days, but can be extended. The ministry’s release noted the province has issued seven mandatory management orders and approved 18 voluntary management contracts between hospitals and long-term care homes to date.

“We’re thankful to the staff and physicians from Hamilton Health Sciences who have been working alongside our team over the past few weeks,” said Mary Raithby, CEO of APANS Health Services, which runs Grace Villa, in the HHS release. “We look forward to working together with HHS over the coming months to control this outbreak and return the home to normal operations, for our residents and their families, and our staff.”

Hamilton currently has 17 institutional outbreaks, which are mostly senior homes. The city reported 185 active cases linked to long-term care and retirement home outbreaks as of Dec. 15.

The city’s second-biggest outbreak is at Chartwell Willowgrove, which has a cumulative 101 cases, including 63 residents, 36 staff and two visitors. Sharon Ranalli, spokesperson for Chartwell Retirement Residences, told The Spectator the home had nine active cases as of Dec. 15.

A growing outbreak at Shalom Village now has 78 cases, including 43 residents, 34 staff and one visitor.

An ongoing outbreak at Juravinski Hospital saw another death Wednesday. A man in his late 80s died in the outbreak Dec. 13, the third death since the outbreak was declared Dec. 3.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator