A Toronto doctor says Shalom Village did not heed warnings to act quickly when the outbreak began, and says the result is expected to be deadly.
Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Sinai Health System, says he raised alarms at the beginning of the outbreak to Larry Levin, the Hamilton long-term-care home’s interim CEO, that if the home didn’t improve staffing levels early, there would be “a lot of death.”
“One in three to one in every five residents who get infected will go on to die,” said Stall, a member of the modelling team for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table who has focused on long-term-care homes during the pandemic. “The number of dead residents at the end of this is going to be absolutely catastrophic.”
Shalom Village is the site of the second-biggest outbreak in Hamilton with 149 cases, according to numbers released by the facility as of 2 p.m. on Dec. 22. Nine people have died since the outbreak was declared Dec. 9.
Of the cases, 64 are staff, 82 residents and three are essential visitors. Four of the residents are in hospital.
Among staff, 18 cases are resolved with three more tests pending. Five resident cases are resolved and two tests are pending.
Stall says he contacted Levin after hearing concerns from workers at the facility about staffing shortages. Stall offered to help facilitate volunteer recruitment to address the shortage, warning that if it wasn’t addressed, people would die not just from COVID-19, but from being unattended.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton has been supporting the home’s outbreak response with staffing, infection prevention and control, and education on PPE, according to the facility.
Last week, Levin told The Spectator that he was looking into potentially hiring volunteers to help in “non-medical areas,” such as sanitizing or offering companionship to residents. But on Friday, spokesperson Laurie Pringle said Shalom Village was “not actively engaging volunteers at this time.”
In an email statement Wednesday, Pringle said the home meets daily with public health and St. Joe’s “to ensure that all our residents continue to receive appropriate care.”
“Volunteers and essential caregivers should not be in the home at this time” to reduce COVID-19 spread, Pringle said. “We do allow caregivers as an exception on compassionate grounds when one of our residents is palliative or at end-of-life.”
But Stall called the situation a “disaster” and said Shalom Village did not act quickly enough.
“I have seen this movie several times before in multiple different provinces and across the world,” Stall said. “It always ends the same way.”
Staff working at Shalom Village say they feel “overwhelmed” and abandoned by top leadership as case counts rapidly increase.
Three of the home’s staff spoke separately with The Spectator. They requested anonymity to protect their relationships at work.
All three complained of a severe shortage in staff and an absence of management in the home.
One worker described working a recent shift with only three staff to care for 30 residents.
The staff member described having to clean residents while they were in bed because the workers were not trained to use lifts. They also said there weren’t enough staff to feed residents, so it took more than two hours to feed them a single meal, leaving many of them getting their food “cold” and “mushy.”
“I started crying because I was so overwhelmed,” the worker said. “We were just left to figure it out on our own.”
While Shalom Village has recruited additional dietary aides, staff say the new workers are restricted to dropping off food and can’t enter resident rooms to help with feeding. Staff have been left working up to 17 hours in a shift.
“Our staffing levels remain adequate,” Pringle said in an email in response to questions about what the staff told The Spectator. She noted Shalom Village is working with St. Joe’s and outside agencies for staffing support.
“We assess staffing daily, based on the needs of the residents in each area, and adjust where necessary,” she said. “As you know, COVID-19 has been difficult for many long-term-care homes, and Shalom Village is among them.”
Admin working from home
The staff members also expressed frustration at a lack of support from the home’s top administration, who are not on-site.
One worker was concerned that if there was a medical emergency on a weekend, they wouldn’t know who to call besides 911.
Staff added that sanitary conditions within the home were suffering. They described garbage bins filling up and rooms being left uncleaned.
“My shoes were literally sticking to the floor,” said a worker about one of the resident’s rooms.
At a town hall on Monday, Levin said the home has recruited additional cleaning staff. But staff said those workers were sanitizing hallways, and not going inside rooms.
“I don’t know who these people are, I don’t know if they’re supposed to be cleaning in the rooms,” said one of the staff members. “There’s nobody to even contact to ask this question.”
“We’re left to fend for ourselves,” said another worker.
“How do you lead from your couch hosting Zoom meetings?” a third worker said. “You have to lead by example.”
“Similar to many organizations, we have asked administrative staff to work from home where possible,” said Pringle. “We are very grateful for the hard work, compassion and dedication shown by our staff to our residents, particularly under these stressful times.”
Stall believes management should be on-site so they know what’s happening inside the facility.
“It’s the same reason why inspections in the long-term-care homes don’t work when they’re done by telephone,” he said. “We have seen this over and over where leadership abandoned ship when it’s the greatest level of crisis and workers are left to pick up the pieces.”
“That is a recipe for a failure.”
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator