British Columbia

Care home says it received 'alarming' hoax call on the day it registered Canada's 1st COVID-19 death

The care home at the centre of one of B.C.'s largest COVID-19 outbreaks says it received a "mysterious" phone call that "compromised health and safety of residents and staff" on the day it recorded Canada's first death from the disease.

Open letter from Lynn Valley facility said call spread 'needless fear,' diverted resources at critical time

Paramedics wearing full body protective equipment clean a stretcher after responding to a call at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C., on March 20. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The care home at the centre of one of B.C.'s largest COVID-19 outbreaks says it received a "mysterious" phone call that "compromised health and safety of residents and staff" on the day it recorded Canada's first death from the disease.

The Lynn Valley Care Centre sent out an "open letter" to media Tuesday morning describing how, in the early hours of March 8, centre staff received a phone call that appeared to originate from health authorities and left them "deeply alarmed."

The call has since become evidence in an ongoing RCMP investigation. North Vancouver RCMP confirmed receiving a report from the centre about the hoax call on March 9. 

Sgt. Peter DeVries said Tuesday that a suspect was arrested but has since been released while the investigation continues.

"It was scary. There was an original fear of the pandemic to begin with, obviously naturally, but it just compounded everyone's fears,'' Noori Shahkar, administrator for the care centre, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He said the caller phoned the care centre directly, as well as some of the administrators, including himself.

"The caller pretended to be a health officer and they exaggerated the number of people who have tested positive in the centre and stated that because of that, they had to shut the centre down overnight,'' Shahker said.

The caller also said residents and staff on site shouldn't leave and the next shift of staff members shouldn't come in, he said.

As a result, many staff members called home to tell their families they shouldn't expect them back, and staff members on the morning shift didn't come in. It meant some workers were on site for up to 16 hours before they got relief, he said.

On March 8, a resident at the Lynn Valley Care Centre was confirmed as the first person in Canada to die from COVID-19

'That call kicked us while we were down'

The care centre said the call spawned "needless fear" among residents, their families and staff, who knew little about the relatively new disease and its dangers.

"What we can say about the call was that it deeply alarmed our staff. Based on the information relayed in that call, out of concern for the safety of our residents, we took immediate action," the letter said.

But Kathie Boyd, whose 82-year-old mother lives at the care home, took exception to the claim that the hoax-call caused family members fear. She said she knew nothing of the hoax phone call until the care home issued the news release.

"To say that the hoax call caused families needless fear is crazy," Boyd said. 

"We were fearful for the health and safety and well-being of our parents because we were in there observing that there was only a couple of staff members on to care for the whole floor of residents. That's what caused us fear," she said.

Kathie Boyd provided care to her mother Donna MacPherson, who has dementia, during an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Lynn Valley Care Home in North Vancouver. (Submitted by Kathie Boyd)

The letter from Lynn Valley Care Home said over the course of the next 24 hours after receiving the call, the care centre learned the call was, in fact, a hoax.

"Unfortunately, a great deal of harm had already been done to our capacity to provide the high standard of care," the letter said.

"[The call] diverted valuable time and resources away from our capacity to work at a time when we faced the greatest challenge in our centre's history," the letter said.

"That call kicked us while we were down, really down."

In total, 52 centre residents were infected by the virus.

By the time the outbreak was declared over on May 7, 20 residents had died.

With files from The Canadian Press

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