Edmonton

With 55 deaths, Edmonton long-term care centre outbreak now the deadliest in Alberta

As of Thursday afternoon, the outbreak at CapitalCare Lynnwood in the West Meadowlark Park neighbourhood had claimed 55 lives, making it the deadliest outbreak to date in the province since the pandemic began.

In a 46-day period, 41 residents of CapitalCare Lynnwood died of COVID-19

CapitalCare's Lynnwood long-term care centre, at 8740 165th St. in west Edmonton, is the site of Alberta's deadliest outbreak of COVID-19. (Nathan Gross/CBC News)

A COVID-19 outbreak at a west Edmonton long-term care facility is now considered the deadliest in the province.

As of Thursday afternoon, the outbreak at CapitalCare Lynnwood in the West Meadowlark Park neighbourhood had claimed 55 lives, making it the deadliest outbreak in Alberta since the pandemic began.

In a 46-day period over the holidays, 41 residents died of COVID-19.

A total of 262 cases — 159 residents and 103 staff —  have been linked to the outbreak. Three cases remain active while 205 are considered recovered, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.

The number of active infections continues to decline but the waning caseload comes after a particularly bleak holiday season inside the 276-bed facility.

On Monday, two more residents — a woman in her 80s and another in her 70s — died from complications of the disease.

'COVID-19 is still with us'

"This sad news is a reminder that COVID-19 is still with us, and that continued vigilance is still necessary at this point in our pandemic journey," site director Bonnie Roberts said Tuesday in a statement to residents' families.

The outbreak remains contained to the facility's Parker Pavilion, Roberts said.

The first round of vaccinations for residents and unit staff is nearly complete, she said.

"We continue to have no new positive cases," Roberts said.

Francine Drisner, COO of CapitalCare, said the outbreak will be reviewed to better understand contributing factors.

"We thank our staff for the courage to care in these most challenging circumstances who worked through this very difficult outbreak," Drisner said in a statement to CBC News.

'Like losing another family member'

The outbreak was declared in late November. Within the first week, 56 residents and 18 staff members fell ill. 

"The outbreak happened really quickly and the numbers went up quite fast, even in the first three to four days," said Dr. Daisy Fung, a family physician who works at the facility on rotation.

Fung's most recent shift at Lynnwood was on Dec. 28, when the outbreak was near its peak.

She said the loss of so many residents has taken an unmeasurable toll on front-line staff, who have experienced an "unimaginable amount" of loss.

"It's like losing another family member," Fung said in an interview Thursday.  "Sometimes we would lose quite a few in a day then, and one day then around Christmas, we lost a husband and wife together on the same day from COVID. It was devastating."

To date, 988 of Alberta's 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.

Fung, who is also an assistant clinical professor in the University of Alberta's department of family medicine, said the virus appears to have spread, often undetected, during the first critical days of the Lynnwood outbreak.

She said asymptomatic testing during the first few days uncovered alarming numbers. The situation felt hopeless, she said. 

"We were all working hard and trying to do our best and doing the proper protocols with PPE and infection control, and yet it seems to just be out of our hands and out of our control. " 

Fung said medical staff continue to question why Lynnwood was hit so hard. She believes several factors may have contributed to the spread. She said the facility, constructed in 1965, is old and its hallways and rooms are more cramped than more modern care facilities. There are often two to three patients assigned to each room.

The vaccine has brought a sense of relief to the front lines, Fung said. Without the immunizations, many feared that new residents being admitted to the facility would bring a new wave of infection, she said.

"We have so many empty beds because we've lost so many of our residents and so there would be a whole new cohort of patients coming in from hospital," she said.

"We were bracing ourselves mentally for the possibility of having an outbreak after outbreak.  

"I hope that this is the last that we've seen of outbreaks." 

'He wants to go home' 

Rob Circa's father Fred has lived at CapitalCare Lynnwood for two years.

The 86-year-old has early-stage dementia and mobility issues. He lives in a ward that has remained free of infection.

Hearing about the spate of deaths inside the facility, however, has been difficult for his family. 

Circa said his own anxiety continues to mount, even though his father was recently immunized. Circa said his father has had several recent falls inside the home.

"We have no idea what their staffing level is or the care he's receiving because we can't go in there to actually see," Circa said. "That's what bothers me the most. 

"And I'm sure he's getting, you know, reasonable care. But still, after not seeing him for eight months, it starts to make you wonder because you're seeing all these people, a lot of the workers themselves are getting sick. 

"You really can't blame the workers because I'm sure they're doing their best. But if they're short-staffed, they need to get more staff."

Circa said worries about his father's health and wonders when he will be able to see him again. They talk often but communication can be difficult and the separation has been painful, he said.

"He wants to go home," Circa said. "Eight months is a long time not to be coming back.

"Hopefully things are going to change for everybody here pretty quick."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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