'They should all be vaccinated': Veterans living at site of COVID outbreak haven't received booster shots

·3 min read

Veterans living in a Saint John long-term care home in the throes of a COVID-19 outbreak have yet to receive their COVID-19 booster shots, as the province recommends a five-month interval before those living in a communal setting can get the third jab.

Horizon Health Network spokesperson Kris McDavid confirmed Friday that two staff members at Ridgewood Veterans Health Wing have tested positive for the virus. He said the next round of testing is scheduled for Nov. 22, and all residents are currently isolated to their rooms.

But he said the majority of the residents of the 80-bed facility won't receive their booster shots until the first week of December.

The news comes as a shock to Cecile Cassista, executive director of Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights, who said she was made to believe all seniors in long-term care homes across the province have had their boosters.

"I'm really concerned because it doesn't matter if you're a veteran in a care facility, it's all long-term care, and we shouldn't be playing with words," she said. "They should all be vaccinated, and I was lead to believe they were."

On Nov. 9, the Government of New Brunswick announced the rollout was complete of booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for residents at nursing homes in the province. But that the process was continuing at adult residential facilities, with 82 per cent of them complete. The rest of those facilities will be finished by the end of the month, the release reads.

Cassista said the residents at Ridgewood should have been prioritized, especially since the Saint John region was under a circuit breaker until last Friday.

"They're responsible for seniors, whether they're veterans, whether they're in special-care homes or whether in nursing homes – they're all in the same mix," she said. "I want to know why they were shortchanged and why they are treated differently when they are in a different facility."

She said she's hearing how upsetting news of the outbreak is to family members who know their loved ones haven't received the booster.

Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the Department of Health, said booster doses can be administered to residents living in communal living settings at a minimum of a five-month interval, even though in the past the department has recommended at least four months.

"It is our understanding that the boosters for the residents of this Horizon Health Network facility are due the first week of December," Macfarlane wrote in an email.

The outbreak announced Friday has temporarily closed the wing's Designated Support Person program, and existing visitor restrictions will remain in place, reads a release from the health authority.

Due to the outbreak, there will be no patient admissions or transfers to and from this facility. COVID-19 testing for patients and staff is underway, and Horizon is following enhanced Infection Prevention and Control guidelines.

These temporary measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of patients, staff, physicians and the community, according to Horizon Health.

In the media release, Margaret Melanson, Horizon's vice-president of quality and patient-centred care, said prevention and control precautions are the best ways to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure we are providing safe and quality care to our patients, clients and their families and protecting our health care workers," Melanson said.

The release states Horizon understands it is difficult for families and friends to be separated from their loved ones during this period.

"We encourage people to use technology to connect with our patients," it reads. "Our staff are working diligently to provide care and comfort to our patients during this outbreak."

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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