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B.C. senior home staff still struggling in COVID-19 ‘marathon’

Huge overtime increases recorded in Seniors Advocate review
Five staff at the long-term care home in Langley were confirmed to have COVID on Friday, April 2, 2021. Outbreaks continue to be reported in B.C. care homes, despite vaccination of most staff and residents. (Langley Advance Times)

The B.C. government has already begun acting on the main recommendations of the B.C. Seniors Advocate’s study of the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic on long-term care and assisted living homes in the province.

Facilities that dealt with coronavirus outbreaks during the first year starting in early 2020 saw an average 178 per cent increase in overtime, Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie found in her first major review of the situation. The report, released Wednesday, recommends increased paid sick leave for all staff, increased staff in general and particularly registered nurses, and decreased contracting for direct care services.

One key recommendation, requiring staff to be vaccinated, was confirmed this week by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Staff and visitors must begin showing proof of vaccination by Oct. 12.

“The staff who work in long-term care and assisted living, the people managing the facilities, and the health system supporting them have been through an 18-month marathon that continues,” Mackenzie said in the report Oct. 6.

Despite the lack of vaccine for most of the period of the report, it shows successful containment of outbreaks in many cases.

“We learned that knowing who was the first case, how the facility was notified about this first case, and the testing strategy directed by public health all had a relationship to whether the outbreak was likely to be larger,” the report says. “The amount of paid sick leave provided, the level of registered nursing staff, and whether the operator contracts for direct care services also influenced if an outbreak was larger or small.”

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The review examined 365 outbreaks at 210 long-term care and assisted living facilities between March 2020 and February 2021, the first two waves of COVID-19 infection in B.C. Much of that time was before vaccines were available in Canada.

Overall, 51 per cent of long-term care sites and 22 per cent of assisted living sites experienced an outbreak, resulting in almost 4,500 cases (six per cent of total cases during the period) and 782 resident deaths (57 per cent of all deaths).

Three quarters of the outbreaks were contained without fatalities, and almost that many were contained to four or fewer cases, the report finds.


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