St. Elizabeth responds to public health order; no vaccine yet for the seniors’ home in COVID-19 outbreak

·3 min read

One of the three seniors’ homes where public health says it found breaches in infection control says it has responded to the issues.

A spokesperson for St. Elizabeth Retirement Residence, part of a 114-acre development called St. Elizabeth Village, says the home “immediately addressed” concerns public health raised in an inspection on Dec. 28.

In an email, the city says the order remains in effect “until all of the items in the order are satisfied and/or the outbreak is over.”

Neither of the other two homes with recent orders — Blackadar Continuing Care Centre and Villa Italia Retirement Residence — responded to The Spectator’s requests for comment. Failure to comply with orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act can lead to further legal action and a fine of up to $5,000 per day for an individual, or up to $25,000 for a corporation, if convicted.

Rizwan Gehlen, who co-owns the retirement residence, said there were some “procedural changes” such as having staff ask employees screening questions instead of letting them self-report on a form. Another change was storing PPE outside of rooms instead of inside, so staff could don the gear before entering a room with a COVID-19 patient. The home also added more signage.

Gehlen said “vast majority” of staff were already following correct protocols.

“What we’ve done to address that is re-educate, and increase the frequency of our audits,” he said. “We appreciate it, quite frankly, public health’s support in ensuring we do whatever it takes to manage this.”

As of Jan. 12, Gehlen said the home has seen five residents die from COVID-19, an increase of one from what public health reported on Jan. 11. Of the 51 total cases reported by the city on Tuesday, Gehlen said 20 are resolved.

“Every loss has been equally felt by our staff and management,” Gehlen said. He appreciated staff efforts. “They really are heroes.”

Gehlen added there were staffing shortages across the sector, with some staff avoiding work in an outbreak for personal or family safety.

“Sometimes they’re your most experienced staff,” he said. “We were no different.”

He said the facility recruited more staff through direct hires, outside contracts, support from family practitioners, as well as nursing staff through St. Joseph’s Health System.

Gehlen said the home has “doubled and in some cases tripled baseline staffing levels” on each floor. They are also giving on- and off-site accommodation to some staff to prevent COVID from spreading into their homes.

Besides the retirement residence, St. Elizabeth Village has townhomes and amenities. But Gehlen, who is also the chief financial operator for Zest Communities, the village operator, said the retirement home is “completely separate from the broader village,” and has its own staff.

The home’s residents are isolating in their rooms. Visitation is “completely restricted” except for health-care providers and essential workers.

Despite its outbreak, the home has not yet received vaccines. The city noted 27 long-term-care homes and 10 “high-risk” retirement homes are to receive vaccines by Jan. 18.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator