How an Edmonton continuing care facility kept COVID-19 from spreading

The pandemic has been devastating for Alberta continuing care facilities, with outbreaks at some locations leading to dozens of deaths. Others, though, have remained relatively COVID-free for the past 15 months.

‘It was difficult, but we had to be decisive, we had to be quick,’ executive director says

Clinical Coordinator Pamela Azenabor sits with Canterbury resident Ilse Kunik. (Dallas Curow)

The pandemic has been devastating for Alberta continuing care facilities, with outbreaks at some locations linked to dozens of deaths, but an Edmonton site has remained relatively COVID-free for the past 15 months.

The not-for-profit Canterbury Foundation houses 215 residents across three linked buildings in Edmonton's Laurier Heights neighbourhood.

So far, the foundation has managed to keep COVID-19 from spreading within its walls. Not one resident has contracted the virus there.

COVID-19 has touched the organization. According to the foundation, three staff members acquired the virus outside of work and have since recovered.

One resident, a woman in her 90s, died on January 23 after being exposed to the virus during a hospital visit. The resident had isolated upon her return to Canterbury Court and tested positive for COVID-19 on the last day of her two-week isolation period. Because she had been separated from other residents, the virus did not spread beyond her room.

Executive director Wendy King said quickly putting precautionary measures in place has kept the facility COVID-free.

"It was difficult, but we had to be decisive, we had to be quick and we had to have a common goal, with our staff, residents and families, to keep COVID out," she said Monday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active

Staff educator Afia Gyan, left, and resident Ruth Krebs attend a staff celebration marking one year since the pandemic began. (LeighAnn Smith/Bangel PR)

Staff strategies

The foundation screened staff before each shift and required them to double-mask when caring for residents.

In April of last year, a single-site worker policy kicked in. Until that point, many staff had been working part-time at multiple locations. The foundation increased workers' hours so they would not lose income by agreeing to work in only one place, King said. 

The foundation also offered staff psychological support and leave to care for sick family members.

Costs piled up during a period when vacancies at the residences were tough to fill, but King said donations and a government grant helped the foundation financially. 

Canterbury resident Al Gourley said staff reacted quickly and were rigorous about protecting reisdents during the pandemic. (Bangel PR)

'Extraordinarily well-managed'

Al Gourley, 83, has been a Canterbury resident for the past three years.

He said the organization being "extraordinarily well-managed" paid off during the pandemic.

Gourley said he was worried after reading horror stories last year about outbreaks at other facilities, but the rigorous approach staff took to protecting people gave him a sense of security.

Gourley described a culture of wearing masks in common areas, tightly managed visits, daily sanitization and temperature checks and good communication.

He said staff explained the restrictions well and empowered residents to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Restrictions did take a toll, though, he said.

"It's caused me more isolation than I would have liked, and that's created some loneliness," he said.

"But on the other hand, I look around me and I see the whole world going through the same thing."

Canterbury's residents were not prioritized in the initial vaccine rollout, but King said 98 per cent of them have now received both doses and more than 80 per cent of staff have had at least one dose.


Madeleine Cummings is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She covers local news and files for CBC Edmonton's web, radio and TV platforms. You can reach her at madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca.