Hamilton

Resident dies from COVID-19 at Burlington's Tansley Woods LTC home

While vaccination rates among residents are high, the numbers are significantly lower among staff.

The outbreak is leading to questions about the facility’s staff vaccination rate

The death of a resident of a Burlington long-term care home facing an outbreak of COVID-19’s Delta variant is leading to questions about the facility’s staff vaccination rate. (GoogleMaps)

The death of a person living at a Burlington long-term care home facing an outbreak of COVID-19's Delta variant is leading to questions about the facility's staff vaccination rate. 

Schlegel Villages, which operates The Village of Tansley Woods on Upper Middle Road, said Monday that "the team... is facing the loss of a long-standing resident of the community over the weekend." The company's online statement also said that while vaccination rates among residents are high, the numbers are significantly lower among staff. 

"Currently, 86 per cent of our team members have their first dose of vaccine, and 52 per cent are fully vaccinated," Schlegel Villages director of communications Kristian Partington told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday. 

Long-term care workers have been eligible for vaccines since the early days of the rollout. 

"We are doing everything we can to support team members in getting their vaccinations, including offering paid time off to get vaccinated, arranging transportation to and from vaccine clinics, and conducting education," said Partington in an email. "Tomorrow, we will be holding our sixth on-site vaccination clinic at The Village."

Schlegel Villages says following the death, there remain 16 active resident cases and two staff cases. "All other symptoms are mild at this time and the team continues to monitor everyone closely."

Halton Region Public Health has slightly different numbers, saying the outbreak at Tansley Woods has reached 20 people: 15 residents, one staff member, two "non-Halton" cases and two people classified as "role not specified." 

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Toronto's Sinai Health, says the fact that most residents have mild symptoms shows the efficacy of the vaccines, even against Delta. 

"COVID-19 vaccines do not guarantee someone will not get infected," but they greatly reduce the likelihood of serious illness or death, he told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

Ontario's medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said Tuesday the province must continue to "embrace vaccination" among workers and family members of people in long-term care.

"We've achieved a lot by having prioritized our LTC patients, workers and families early in this pandemic," he said. "It is every Ontarian's job to protect those who are vulnerable by getting the highest immunity rate we can achieve."

Some PSWs still face vaccination barriers

"Hesitancy remains" among PSWs when it comes to being vaccinated, says Ian da Silva, director of operations with the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA).

"OPSWA is unsure as to why this is the case, however we speculate that it is a combination of false news and narrative, fear mongering amongst colleagues and peers — especially those that do not work in healthcare — and burnout. This seems to be the case for the entire province." 

Jane Meadus, staff lawyer and institutional advocate for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, believes barriers other than anxiety over the vaccine itself are most likely at play. She says low vaccination rates among long-term care workers "tends to be an administrative or corporate issue," saying homes who have worked hard to make vaccines available, answer workers' questions and offer paid time off in case of adverse reactions tend to have more staff who are vaccinated.

As of July 1, the province requires all long-term care workers to either be vaccinated, have a medical exemption or to receive training on the importance of vaccines. Partington says Schlegel Villages launched its vaccination policy in June, almost a month early. 

"As part of that policy, we are conducting ongoing vaccine education sessions for staff, including individual conversations with team members, one-on-one discussions with our medical director, and running town halls."

Meadus points out that the content of that training is up to the individual LTC homes, not a provincial curriculum.

"When you have a home that already has a very low number of people who are vaccinated, one is concerned about the kind of training they're going to get. Homes that have done well have provided that information already."

She also notes that homes who contract workers from employment agencies may have a harder time tracking the vaccination status of those workers.

"The ministry can't inspect agencies; it can only inspect the homes," she told CBC Hamilton. 

Another issue Meadus is watching relates to how quickly new long-term care residents are able to access vaccines after moving in. She says people who move into care have often been previously housebound, so are less likely to have been vaccinated in the community.

"We're going to be dealing with this for a very long time and we obviously have to get it right."

In a Monday press conference in North Bay, premier Doug Ford said he doesn't believe in "forcing vaccines on everyone," but hoped PSWs would see the importance of getting their jabs.

"Think of people you're taking care of, think of their families, think of your families," Ford said. "Please, I beg you, please get vaccinated… The only way it's coming in is unfortunately through people from the outside.

"We just can't risk it with our seniors right now."

Sinai Health's Dr. Sinha says that in his field, there's growing consensus that vaccinations for LTC workers should be mandated.

"We can't let a staff member's... interest overrule the health and wellbeing of the frail residents they're looking out for."

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp and Mike Crawley

Corrections

  • This story initially stated 96 per cent of Tansley Woods residents had two vaccine doses as of July 6. Due to a reporting error by the facility's operator, this number was too high, and should have been somewhere below 89 per cent.
    Jul 19, 2021 11:42 AM ET
  • Due to an email error at the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, this story initially cited the wrong employee. It has been updated to reflect the name of the person who composed the email.
    Jul 27, 2021 9:28 AM ET

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