Workers at Hamilton’s biggest outbreaks at Grace Villa and Shalom Village receive COVID-19 vaccine

·3 min read

Staff at Hamilton’s hardest-hit long-term-care homes began to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as case counts and deaths continue to surge.

Staff at both Grace Villa and Shalom Village started to receive their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination this week.

In an email on Tuesday, Mary Raithby, CEO of APANS Health Services, said Grace Villa’s staff were being vaccinated “in groups” to ensure enough workers remained on-site in case any staff began to experience side effects from the vaccine.

Grace Villa remains the site of Hamilton’s biggest and deadliest outbreak by far. The home has had 223 cases with 37 deaths in 35 days.

At Shalom Village, the city’s second-biggest outbreak, staff began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Monday, according to the home’s interim CEO. Twenty staff members were vaccinated as of Tuesday, said Larry Levin.

In a town hall on Tuesday, Levin, who sits on the Hamilton table for the vaccine’s distribution, said Shalom Village had been allocated 10 vaccinations per day for staff.

“This is going to take ... at least two to three weeks to get everyone vaccinated,” he said.

Shalom Village has reported a total of 157 cases since the outbreak began Dec. 9, according to the city. Sixteen residents have died, according to the facility, bringing Shalom Village close to the city’s second-deadliest outbreak at Chartwell Willowgrove, where 18 residents have died.

On Dec. 24, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton took temporary management control at Shalom Village. This followed a public health order on Dec. 14 that authorized the hospital to work with the home to respond to the outbreak. The management agreement allows for “further collaboration” between the hospital and the home to manage staffing, cleaning and an infection control among other measures, according to a joint press release.

The agreement marks the second time the province gave a hospital management of a Hamilton long-term-care facility. The first was Grace Villa, which was taken over by Hamilton Health Sciences on Dec. 16. In both cases, the homes entered the contracts voluntarily.

Shalom Village is also transitioning to a new CEO next week. Ken Callaghan, recently the executive director of the Women’s College Academic Family Health Team and the Women’s College Family Practice Health Centre in Toronto, will begin his new role as of Jan. 4, 2021. At the town hall, Callaghan announced he will be on-site at the facility as of Monday.

The Spectator previously reported about concerns over Shalom Village’s top management working from home during the outbreak, leaving staff members feeling abandoned.

Workers also complained about staffing shortages, which left them working up to 17-hour shifts and was causing sanitary conditions to decline. At Tuesday’s town hall, Levin said Shalom had “adequate staff levels” before the outbreak, with agency staff waiting in the wings. After the outbreak began, he said some staff didn’t want to return.

“We’ve had to deal with staffing levels that were very difficult for a while,” said Levin, noting current staff levels are “much more stable.”

“Are patients receiving the same level of care that they received prior to COVID? The answer is yes,” he added.

The Moderna vaccine is expected to arrive in Ontario by Wednesday and will be used to vaccinate long-term-care residents shortly after. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine does not need to remain at an extremely cold temperature, making it more feasible to transport to long-term-care homes.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator