Personal support workers at an Ottawa long-term care home in the midst of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak say they don't have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to do their jobs safely, contradicting assurances from both the home's owner and the province.
At least 92 residents and staff members at West End Villa have now tested positive for COVID-19. As of Monday, 11 residents had died. The nursing home is currently experiencing the most severe COVID-19 outbreak in the province.
On Monday, the NDP asked Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton about a lack of N95 masks for staff at the home.
Fullerton responded that she's been in constant contact with the home to make sure staff there have the equipment they needed.
"I can assure this chamber and Ontarians that West End Villa has the PPE that it requires, including N95 [masks], available to the staff to use," said Fullerton inside the Ontario Legislature on Monday. "What is happening in our long-term care homes in terms of the spread of COVID ... is a reflection of what's happening in the community. Ottawa is struggling to keep its numbers down."
In a statement to CBC, Extendicare, the company that owns and operates West End Villa, said N95 masks are not actually "recommended or required" by health authorities in long-term care settings.
"Our contacts at The Ottawa Hospital have confirmed this with our teams. The Ottawa Hospital staff and physicians also use surgical masks when they are on site at West End Villa," said Extendicare management.
Only RNs offered N95 masks
Personal support workers (PSWs) and registered practical nurses at West End Villa told CBC that registered nurses are the only staff members at the 242-bed facility who currently have access to N95 masks.
As of Monday, 28 staff members had tested positive for the virus, many of them PSWs.
According to three staff members who spoke to CBC on the condition of anonymity, some employees are terrified of getting sick and some have stayed home from work, leaving West End Villa short-handed and forcing managers to call in temporary replacement workers.
The employees say about 30 of the West End Villa staff members currently taking care of COVID-19 patients are now living at an Ottawa hotel.
In a conference call between managers and staff on Monday, employees were told PSWs who want N95 masks will now be fitted for the protective equipment on Wednesday.
Families also concerned
Relatives of residents who spoke to CBC say they're also concerned about the safety of their loved ones.
None of the families who contacted CBC on Monday wanted to speak publicly for fear their comments would have an impact on their family members' care.
"This all could have been prevented," said one woman. "There's not enough staff to cover the patients. You know, it's ridiculous. They're not getting the care they need and they're not moving fast enough to isolate when the patients are sick."