10 deaths, 146 cases tied to COVID-19 outbreak at south Edmonton long-term care facility

On Oct. 22, one staff member at South Terrace Continuing Care Centre tested positive for COVID-19. Now 10 residents have died and a total of 76 residents and 70 staff members have tested positive.

76 residents, 70 staff have tested positive in 3 weeks at South Terrace Continuing Care Centre

South Terrace Continuing Care Centre in south Edmonton is currently the site of a COVID-19 outbreak. (Peter Evans/CBC)

A south Edmonton long-term care facility is being ravaged by an outbreak of COVID-19. 

On October 22, one staff member at the South Terrace Continuing Care Centre, 5905 112th St., tested positive.

Three weeks later, 76 residents and 70 staff members have contracted the virus and 10 residents have died, according to Alberta Health Services. Four staff members have recovered. 

COVID-19 has spread through all five wings of the facility that is owned and operated by Revera Inc.

Revera also owns a Winnipeg care home that called paramedics on the weekend to deal with a crisis of sick and dying patients during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Revera told CBC there are currently 90 residents in the south Edmonton home. That means about 84 per cent of residents who live at South Terrace have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Karen Steiner's 79-year-old father, Richard Steiner, is a South Terrace resident. He has advanced dementia and can't walk, so if staff don't help him into a wheelchair, he is confined to his bed.

On Wednesday morning, his family learned that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Richard Steiner, 79, is a South Terrace resident. He has advanced dementia and for medical reasons is confined to his bed. (Photo supplied by Steiner family)

The facility went into lockdown after an outbreak was declared, so Steiner's family has been unable to visit him. Because of his dementia, he is unable to tell his family about current conditions. 

    Karen Steiner filed a formal complaint with AHS after the most recent communication Revera sent her on Monday.

    The notice said "at this time we will be limiting bed baths to an as needed basis until our staffing levels stabilize" and that residents may be required to stay in bed, depending "on the priority of a given day."

    Steiner called those conditions horrific. 

    "I'm obviously very afraid for my father and afraid for all the residents there," she said. "I understand these are not healthy patients and that bad things will happen. It just seems inhumane, what's happening now with the lack of care."

    Before Steiner learned Wednesday that her father had tested positive for COVID, she told CBC News that he had developed chest congestion and was being given oxygen.

    "Lying in bed with lung problems is very, very dangerous for an elderly patient," Steiner said.

    "I'm worried there are patients there who will not receive the proper care that they deserve. That they will lie in their filth, that they will lie in beds and get bedsores, that they will lie in bed immobile and have pneumonia. Especially those who are sick."

    Karen Steiner has filed a formal complaint with Alberta Health Services about current conditions at her father's long term care facility. (Google Meet)

    Efforts to increase staffing

    In a statement to CBC, Revera's chief medical officer said the company is working with AHS to increase staffing. 

    "At present, AHS is providing much appreciated support in terms of nurse practitioners, registered nurses, LPN's and allied health workers," Dr. Rhonda Collins wrote.

    "We have added agency nurses and staff to assist with housekeeping, screening and home surveillance." 

    Revera later sent another statement clarifying that the notice sent Monday "was not clear."

    "The executive director has clarified and sent out a new letter tonight [Tuesday] confirming that residents are still getting daily morning and bedtime care," read a statement from Revera communications director Larry Roberts. 

    "They get up and are dressed and get twice-weekly bed baths. However, until staffing levels stabilize, the priority may be other care needs and a scheduled bed bath may not take precedence on a particular day."

    Roberts noted that staffing levels are down 30 per cent because of staff who are isolating at home. 

    AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson confirmed the health authority is working closely with South Terrace leadership to manage the outbreak. 

    'Terrifying' for staff, AUPE representative says

    The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) has 146 members who work at South Terrace.  AUPE vice-president Susan Slade said the COVID-19 outbreak has made for a terrible situation for employees. 

    "It's terrifying for members to have to go in and work," Slade said.

    "They're trying their very best to look after the patients that are there. They're doing their job to the best of their ability, but when you're constantly short-staffed, you're worried about bringing home COVID to your family." 

    Slade said she just found out that South Terrace has been granted an exemption to the rule that forbids long-term care employees from working at more than one facility.

    She said Revera plans to ask workers from other facilities to bolster staff levels. Slade said Revera has promised to reinstate incentive pandemic pay for workers at South Terrace because of the current conditions. 

    Steiner said she has empathy for the overworked staff, but she's calling on AHS to take immediate action. 

    "I think they have to do something extraordinary," she said. "I'd like the province to step in and find some staff for that building or get those patients moved to where there are staff. 

    "Immediately, today." 

    NDP health critic David Shepherd is calling on the health minister to intervene. 

    "To take control in a situation that clearly this private health facility has failed to properly plan and failed to properly mitigate the situation and has let this get out of control," Shepherd said.

    "So it is the place and the role of our minister of health to take control of the situation and ensure he is protecting these residents." 

    Steiner thinks the situation has reached the tipping point.

    "Just because they don't have staff, you can't stop providing care. The province can't allow that."


    Janice Johnston

    Court and crime reporter

    Janice Johnston is an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who has covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca.