Calgary

Three-quarters of Alberta's COVID-19 deaths have come at long-term care facilities: CIHI

Alberta has experienced the fourth-highest proportion of COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities among provinces, according to the latest analysis from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

Health Minister says province's death rate remains low, relative to number of residents in long-term care

A COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 25, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta has experienced the fourth-highest proportion of COVID-19 deaths at long-term care facilities among provinces, according to the latest analysis from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

The analysis found 537 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in Alberta and 101 deaths as of late May, which represented about eight per cent of total cases in the province and 73 per cent of total deaths.

Nova Scotia had the highest proportion of deaths in long-term care, at 97 per cent, followed by Quebec and Ontario, each at roughly 82 per cent.

Quebec and Ontario have seen far more deaths, in terms of sheer numbers. More than 3,300 people have died in long-term care in Quebec and more than 1,700 in Ontario, according to CIHI's analysis.

COVID-19 in long-term care homes in Canada as of May 25, 2020, according to a CIHI report. (CIHI)

Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and the territories had no reported deaths in retirement homes and long-term care facilities.

Nationally, CIHI found that 81 per cent of Canada's deaths were recorded in long-term care, compared to an average of 42 per cent for countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the proportion of total COVID-19 deaths in long-term care is not the only measure the province tracks.

"I think it's also important for us to think of it not just on a percentage basis, but also to remember what the mortality rate is in continuing-care facilities throughout Canada," he said.

That rate is 142 deaths per million residents nationally, Shandro said, compared to 23 in Alberta.

"I think that speaks volumes to the success that we've seen here in Alberta."

CIHI says lessons can be learned

Tracy Johnson, director of health systems analysis and emerging issues at CIHI, said it's important for Canada to look at the report and seek ways to learn and improve.

"It's an opportunity to understand that the layering and the timing of some of the infection prevention and control that we had in homes was important in wave one," she said. 

"I think the question will be for wave two: Do we have the right infection control measures in place now in homes that will help prevent any more infections?"

In general, Johnson said Canada has fewer personal support workers, compared to other countries that were studied.

"If you have staff getting sick then you don't have as many people available to care for people either and that can snowball your problem," she said.

In Canada, nearly 10,000 long-term care staff members were infected by COVID-19, which represents more than 10 per cent of the country's total cases, according to CIHI.

Nine of those health care workers have died of COVID-19.

Johnson said there are some best practices to draw from.

"For example, Newfoundland increased support from the community home care sector to support staff in long-term care early," she said.

"They had the earliest restrictions on health care workers being able to work in more than one place. ... That likely helped control what was happening."

A sign posted outside the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, Alta., after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the facility. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Johnson said a few factors may have played a role in Canada's overall numbers, including how quickly measures were implemented.

"Countries that put in specific, targeted measures at the same time as their stay-at-home orders and their closure of public spaces appear to have had fewer COVID-19 infections and deaths," she said.

Corrections

  • Rather than the proportion of cases, an earlier version of this story referred to the "number" of cases in Alberta being high relative to other provinces, which isn't the case especially when compared to Ontario and Quebec.
    Jun 26, 2020 12:27 PM MT

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta,. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

with files from Tahirih Foroozan

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