COVID-19 outbreaks leave Edmonton long-term care centres struggling to care for residents
At two particularly hard-hit facilities, there are more than 160 active cases among staff and residents
Two Edmonton long-term care centres battling deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 are struggling to stay on top of patient care as the disease spreads among staff and residents.
Capital Care Lynnwood and the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre are among 26 long-term care sites in the Edmonton zone listed on Tuesday as having COVID-19 outbreaks.
As of Monday, the Lynnwood facility was reporting 84 active cases — 29 staff and 55 residents — plus six deaths. At the Chinatown centre, there are active cases among 45 residents and 42 staff, while 12 residents have died.
Both facilities have acknowledged that the outbreaks are taking a toll on patient care, and are raising red flags for a health-care advocacy group and the union that represents long-term care workers.
"Families are upset, they're afraid for their loved ones," Sandra Azocar, executive director for Friends of Medicare, told CBC News on Monday.
"We get daily emails from families that are concerned, or that get calls from their loved ones saying, 'I didn't get a shower again, I didn't get my breakfast.' There's so many health concerns that are being reported by families that are not being addressed by some of the operators."
At Lynnwood, where the outbreak affects two units, the staff shortage means patients may be getting bed baths instead of normal baths or showers, said Bonnie Roberts, site director at Capital Care Lynnwood.
"Staff from other units are helping support the two units on outbreak," Roberts said in an emailed statement. "This means that some services have been impacted, or reduced, on the affected units."
Meanwhile, the situation at the Chinatown facility is extremely challenging, said Sabrina Atwal, a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.
"Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre is a standalone site with no other sites to draw staff from, and staffing agencies are also strapped trying to support many organizations, some contracted by AHS and others that are not," Atwal said in an emailed statement.
Basic care needs, including meals, are being met, Atwal said.
Problematic staffing protocols
The outbreaks highlight what Azocar and Michael Dempsey, an Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice-president, call a systemic problem with how long-term care facilities are staffed.
"The outbreaks are spreading rapidly, lots of staff members are affected and infected," Dempsey told CBC News.
"There aren't enough workers to do this. … The models they're built on go way back with low, minimal staffing. And when you have something like this, they're just not prepared."
Many of the staff members providing care are part-time workers, who in the past have worked at multiple locations to earn full-time paycheques with benefits, including sick leave.
In April, Alberta's chief medical officer of health imposed a rule limiting employees to one worksite, but Azocar said the current shortage means staff are working in multiple sites.
Even worse, fears about lost income may influence workers who aren't feeling well to go in to work regardless, she said.
"When they need to be off because of illnesses, they're not being compensated," she said. "So a lot of people are being put into a position where they might not be able to afford to be truthful when they're not feeling well, and still going to work."
Friends of Medicare wants to see regular, unannounced inspections to help ensure operators have met staffing levels, are following health orders and providing a high standard of care, Azocar said.
"We need the provincial government to make sure that the working conditions for staff are supported, either through COVID pay or to get pay when they have to stay home and self-isolate," she said.
"We need to make sure that these workers are kept healthy and able to work in a healthy facility."
As of Monday, there have been 541 deaths in Alberta from COVID-19, of which 358 have been seniors aged 80 and older.