British Columbia

Vancouver families want answers from long-term care facilities where dozens have died from COVID-19

Family members say they want more answers about how COVID-19 outbreaks were handled at the long-term care facilities hardest hit by the pandemic, but health authorities say the information is private.

Vancouver Coastal Health says it can't give specifics about outbreak where 38 residents have died

Roanda Anastasiades, left, says she's been left in the dark how her mother Diana Kubicek was cared for when she contracted COVID-19 at the Arbutus Care Centre in Vancouver. (Submitted by Roanda Anastasiades)

Family members say they want more answers about how COVID-19 outbreaks were handled at the long-term care facilities hardest hit by the pandemic.

Bernadette Cheung's grandmother Yuet Wan is one of 38 residents who died at Little Mountain Place since an outbreak was declared there on Nov. 22. According to the home's most recent update to families, 98 out of 114 residents have tested positive for the virus.

"That's 85 per cent infection rate and 33 per cent death rate, which is astounding," said Bernadette Cheung. "I just don't understand how they can say that they've been doing their best and still we're seeing these numbers." 

Bernadette Cheung says her family was shocked by how quickly the COVID-19 outbreak escalated at Little Mountain Place in December 2020. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC News)

Wan was 94-years-old when she died on Dec. 20. In early December, her family was told there had been five fatalities, but Cheung says that number had jumped to 17 by the following week.

"I'm just worried that because of the high staff turnover from the positive cases among the staff, there might have been rushed training in terms of teaching how to use proper PPE or verifying protocols are actually followed," said Cheung. "Will there be a proper investigation done to see where they went wrong or what exactly the points of failure were?"

Little Mountain Place, in Vancouver, is a long-term care home with one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in B.C., according to the province. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Cheung has received an email response from Little Mountain Place's executive director, but feels it doesn't address her specific questions about how the outbreak escalated.

"While we will seek to investigate your concerns, we do have very rigorous outbreak control measures in place at Little Mountain Place, including proper PPE usage and education for visitors," wrote Angela Millar in the email.

Millar confirms there were a number of staff brought in from Vancouver Coastal Health in order to fill in for staff with symptoms that were required to stay home.

"We understand that the influx of new faces can be difficult for families and residents; however, it is a necessity during this challenging time," she said in the email.

Lack of communication and accountability

Roanda Anastasiades has faced similar challenges getting information about her mother's care at the Arbutus Care Centre in Vancouver.

Diana Kubicek, 77, tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 15, days after her roommate became the first person to be diagnosed with the virus at the care home.

"I was so concerned because I saw how she was at the home and her health had deteriorated so much at the home that I was very scared that she wasn't going to make it unless I did something drastic."

Arbutus Care Centre is a 156-bed facility operated by Revera Long Term Care Inc. (CBC News)

As of Dec. 31, 84 residents and staff had contracted the virus, including 10 residents who died from their infections.

Anastasiades requested that her mother receive treatment at the hospital after Kubicek became dehydrated and her oxygen levels dropped. Kubicek is now back at Arbutus recovering from the virus and pneumonia, but her daughter is still frustrated by how difficult it's been to get regular updates on her condition.

"It's a horrible feeling not to be given all the facts and to find out slowly as you go along that something else has happened," said Anastasiades who claims she received conflicting information about her mother's care and the centre's COVID-19 protocols.

According to her, the director assured families that residents' vitals were checked on a daily basis and that staff were assigned to work in one wing in order to stop the spread of the virus. She says staff told her that vitals were not checked daily and that they were working in various parts of the facility.

Neither the health authority, the operators of the facilities, or the Ministry of Health have answered specific questions from CBC News in regards to these outbreaks.

In an emailed statement, VCH says "the circumstances of each outbreak [...] can evolve rapidly, and it causes unnecessary stress to the families of residents and patients to have information publicly misreported."

It added that specific numbers are not disclosed because of privacy concerns.

Cheung feels like VCH is protecting care facilities at the expense of families who want answers.

"For those who have already lost loved ones, it's too late," said Cheung. "I just feel like that also supports the lack of accountability of individual care homes to do better and to really try to find out what went wrong." 

"I feel like families deserve to know what's going on with their loved ones," said Anastasiades. "It actually creates more anxiety not to know."

According to the VCH outbreak bulletin, Little Mountain Place and Arbutus Care Centre are still dealing with outbreaks that started in November.

Both Cheung and Anastasiades have contacted VCH's patient quality care office to try and get more information about what went wrong with their family members' care.

Anastasiades has made a formal complaint with the office over the lack of communication from the care home and to ensure that an ambulance will be called if her mother needs hospital treatment in the future.