‘Why would it take so long’ for Hamilton long-term-care home with ‘horrendous’ conditions to get help, asks union

·3 min read

A new death was reported at Grace Villa on Friday, as the city’s medical officer of health said the ongoing outbreaks in long-term-care were hard to control.

“The outbreaks in our congregate-care facilities are growing,” said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson in a media update after the province announced Hamilton would enter lockdown Dec. 21. “Unfortunately, several of those have been difficult to bring fully under control.”

There have now been 21 deaths at the long-term-care home at the centre of the city’s largest and deadliest outbreak, according to provincial numbers updated Dec. 18 at 10:30 a.m. There are 102 active cases at Grace Villa, an increase of six from the day before, including 72 resident and 30 staff cases.

The facility has seen a total of 196 cases since the outbreak began Nov. 25, an increase of 10 as of Dec. 17 at 3 p.m. That includes 69 staff cases and 127 resident cases.

The outbreak at Shalom Village, a care home in Westdale, has also grown rapidly, with 87 cases reported since the outbreak was declared Dec. 9, including 46 resident cases, 40 staff cases and one visitor case. There were no new cases reported Friday.

Richardson said both Grace Villa and Shalom Village have had difficulty with staffing shortages. At Grace Villa in particular, so many staff have tested positive leading to sanitary conditions described as “horrendous” at the site.

“Their cleaning was terrible. The place was in very bad shape,” said Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

While Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has since taken temporary control over Grace Villa’s management, the hospital has had difficulty recruiting enough staff to voluntarily go into the home. As a result, the hospital is forcing nurses into Grace Villa against their will.

McKenna said three HHS staff have tested positive at Grace Villa.

“It’s not optimal. Getting ordered to go to work at a place where the working conditions were what they were,” she said. “They are better, but they still said there’s a ways to go.”

HHS has asked the Ministry of Labour to perform an air-quality inspection at Grace Villa — in response to calls from the union representing PSWs and other workers — to see if the virus has spread through the home’s ventilation.

“An initial assessment ... concluded that this is not a contributor to transmission,” said HHS spokesperson Wendy Stewart in an email. “An inspection is pending.”

McKenna says Grace Villa should have acted sooner.

“How could it be that an institution that is charged to care for residents themselves, see that they are getting into trouble and not reach out and pull in resources,” she said. “Why would it take so long?”

Mary Raithby, CEO of APANS Health Services, which runs Grace Villa, did not respond to a request for comment.

As some Grace Villa staff return to work after isolation, the chief medical executive of HHS remains cautious.

“Hopefully the numbers we have in there will be able to reduce,” said Dr. Michael Stacey. “But it’s difficult to predict.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Joanna Frketich, The Hamilton Spectator, The Hamilton Spectator