Calgary

3rd resident dies of COVID-19 as Calgary nursing home struggles to hire more staff amid outbreak

A third resident at a southeast Calgary long-term care facility has died of COVID-19, operator Revera Living confirmed to CBC News on Tuesday — as the seniors' home struggles to hire more staff to cope with dozens of cases there.

Revera Living, which operates McKenzie Towne seniors' home, says it has 82 residents in isolation

Someone hung this sign on a fence outside the McKenzie Towne Long Term Care Home in southeast Calgary, to show support for the residents and staff as they struggle with an outbreak of COVID-19. (Jennifer Wiebe)

A third resident at a southeast Calgary long-term care facility has died of COVID-19, operator Revera Living said Tuesday, as the seniors' home struggles to hire more staff to cope with dozens of cases there.

"The team at McKenzie Towne, and the entire Revera family, are devastated to announce the passing of two residents at the home," Revera's chief medical officer, Dr. Rhonda Collins, said in a statement Tuesday.

"We offer our deepest sympathies to their families and friends, to their fellow residents and to the employees who have been providing them with such compassionate care."

One resident remains in hospital for treatment, Collins said.

The first resident of the McKenzie Towne Long Term Care Home to die from COVID-19 was a woman in her 80s on March 23, according to Revera.

On Sunday evening, a second resident, a woman in her 70s, died at the home.

The third death was a man in his 80s who died Monday morning, according to the care home.

The residents have not been identified publicly.

In total, as of midday, 41 people had tested positive for the disease at the care home, including 36 residents and five staff members.

Revera Living says the 150-bed facility has 82 residents in isolation with 10 tests pending.

Hinshaw says outbreak protocol wasn't 'immediately' followed

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said there are "guidelines for outbreak control" that appear not to have been immediately followed at the facility, leading to a more widespread exposure.

She told reporters during her Tuesday COVID-19 briefing that those protocols include doing daily symptom checks, forbidding any staff members with symptoms from working, immediately isolating any residents showing symptoms in their rooms, and seeking testing to "quickly identify" cases of the disease.

"In the case of McKenzie Towne, unfortunately, that outbreak protocol seems to not have been implemented immediately, so there does seem to have been a significant amount of exposure," Hinshaw said.

"And so, really, the critical piece of response in that particular outbreak is making sure that everything is done to prevent any further exposure. So any residents who are feeling ill are kept in their rooms — and make sure they are not interacting with others. Any staff members who are ill are kept at home."

Collins denied any breach of protocol.

"We were disappointed to hear the chief medical officer's comments and would refer you to her for clarification," she said in a written statement issued to CBC News Tuesday evening.

"We have been working with AHS since the outbreak began. We monitored residents for symptoms and put them on isolation when they presented. We screened staff and did not knowingly let people work who were symptomatic."

Care home asked AHS for more staff

Managing care for all those people has become challenging, Collins said earlier Tuesday, so the company is trying to ramp up staffing by hiring more people and drawing on Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff. 

She told the Calgary Eyeopener that the health authority had provided multiple nurses and doctors to assist with the care. The centre also needs more housekeeping and dietary employees, she said.

"What I can tell you is that we are doing everything we can to improve staffing," Collins said. "We have the appropriate number of staff right now for a normal situation — but that is not a normal situation."

She said her Calgary team is in regular contact with AHS about what it needs to handle the COVID-19 outbreak, and has asked the health authority specifically for help with staffing.

Dr. Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer for Revera Living, says Alberta Health Services had provided nurses and doctors to help care for residents of the McKenzie Towne long-term care facility but they also need more housekeeping and dietary employees. (Revera Living)

Alberta Health Services has a physician offering guidance to the residents' doctors, a spokesperson said. The health authority has also placed a clinical nurse at the centre to oversee care, and a medical officer of health and continuing care leadership check in regularly.

"AHS is taking the outbreak at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre extremely seriously," the spokesperson said. "Our thoughts are with the residents and their loved ones, and we want to assure them that we are doing all we can to control this outbreak."

Infection prevention and control specialists, as well as continuing care auditing staff, have been visiting the site to oversee and help stem the spread of coronavirus, the spokesperson said.

The working conditions under strict COVID-19 hygiene policies have been a strain on nursing home staff, said Collins, who also stressed the importance of those measures.

Listen to Dr. Rhonda Collins discuss the COVID-19 outbreak on the Calgary Eyeopener:

The Ontario-based company runs nine facilities in Calgary, offering either retirement living or long-term care.

Collins said the company has limited employees to working at one site only to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to any other sites, should somebody test positive.

She says the need for personal protective gear and extensive cleaning procedures also add time to everyone's workday.

Patients' family worries situation 'out of control'

Shauna Parks, whose 78-year-old mother tested positive and is one of those living in isolation in the home, said the situation has caused heartache for her mother and her family.

Parks said her mother has what she understands to be one of the milder cases in the home but worries the staffing issues mean she isn't getting the attention she needs. She says her mother complained Sunday of waiting for hours to be lifted out of bed while mucus clogged her throat.

"I'm really concerned about that, the staffing there and the nurses who are run off their feet," Parks said. "They need more more staff to to assist in this. It's just out of control."

The McKenzie Towne facility has 150 resident beds. As of noon Tuesday, three residents had died and 82 residents in total were in isolation. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Parks also said her mother told her she was waiting hours longer than usual to get her pain medications.

However, Parks said Revera told her as well that medications were being given on time, despite the staffing challenges.

Collins also told the CBC the company's records show residents are getting their medications on time.

She said she could not speak about specific residents' cases due to privacy protections.

Sick resident misses seeing family, including 22 grandkids

To prevent further infection from coming into the facility, visits have been cancelled, with families only able to reach their loved ones through video chats and phone.

"I just think it's hard for her, for everyone. My mom has a lot of kids and 22 grandkids, and I think it's very stressful for everyone that we're not able to do more right now and to be able to see her," Parks said.

"You can tell she's really concerned, and I feel for her."

The company's top doctor suggested people mail in cards and letters, as well, to help cheer up residents.

On the weekend, people in the McKenzie Towne community tried to show their support. People stood on the sidewalks and sat in their cars outside the facility — while respecting physical distancing guidelines — and sang along to Lean On Me. Others made signs to hang on fences.

"That warms my heart so much," Collins said.

The company's latest update to family members said it expects to see more positive cases until April 6.

Other care homes hit by outbreaks

Two more Calgary long-term care facilities have also experienced outbreaks of COVID-19, bringing the total in the city to three.

In addition to the McKenzie Towne facility, Hinshaw said Tuesday that Alberta Health is now also tracking an outbreak of the disease at the Carewest Glenmore Park facility at 6909 14th St. S.W. in Calgary.

And a resident of a third seniors home in the city, the Extendicare Cedars Villa at 3330 Eighth Ave. S.W., has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the facility confirmed in an emailed statement to CBC on Tuesday.

On March 18, Cedars said a staff member had developed symptoms after coming into contact with someone who had contracted COVID-19 after international travel, and was awaiting test results. CBC News contacted the seniors home to inquire about the result of that staff member's test and the care home declined comment.

The resident has been in isolation since beginning to experience symptoms last Friday, Extendicare Cedars Villa said.

With files from the CBC's Robson Fletcher and the Calgary Eyeopener

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