Daughter of care-home resident fears people working at multiple sites will spread COVID-19 to most vulnerable

A Winnipeg woman is calling on Manitoba's premier, health minister and chief public health officer to issue a directive to limit health-care employees to working at only one facility, in order to prevent the kind of spread of coronavirus seen at care homes in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Family pushing to restrict health-care workers to one facility to prevent the spread of coronavirus

Paramedics transport a patient from Maison Herron, a long-term care home in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, on April 11. A Manitoba woman whose father lives in a personal care home wants to see new rules put in place to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through care homes here. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Kate Klassen is afraid it's just a matter of time before COVID-19 spreads through personal care homes in Manitoba.

Her 88-year-old dad, Stan, who has dementia, is in a personal care home in southeast Winnipeg. Once a week, she and her husband go to visit her dad, reaching out to each other on opposite sides of a glass window.

She says for now, that has to take the place of hugs.

"My worst fear is my dad is going to die over this. Over nothing. Over uselessness. He is very healthy besides his mind. I don't want him to get sick over something that could have been prevented," said Klassen.

She has been anxiously watching reports from Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, where the number of COVID-19 cases in personal care homes has exploded.

Having employees who work in more than one facility, and going back and forth between them, was one of the reasons cited for in the increase.

Long-term care homes are quickly turning into the front lines in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

"You can ask my husband. I am very very anxious. My anxiety level is through the roof," said Klassen.

"It's so upsetting to think we can prevent this before it hits here. We need to taking preventative measures now, not reacting to it afterwards, when it is too late."

Kate Klassen and her dad Stan share messages through a glass window from her personal care home. (Submitted by Kate Klassen)

On Tuesday, Ontario announced it will stop people from working in more than one care home at a time to limit the spread of the virus by workers.

Klassen has contacted Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Health Minister Cameron Friesen, and chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, asking them to issue a similar directive here.

"These people are vulnerable. I love my dad to death. I don't want to see my dad get COVID because of one health-care worker contracting it at one facility and bringing it to him."

She wonders why Pallister and Roussin haven't issued such a directive already.

"Pallister and Roussin have the authority to limit care workers to one facility. I am sure the workers would abide by that rule," she said. 

In a Friday memo to staff, Fred Douglas Lodge on Burrows Avenue said a worker there had tested positive for COVID-19. The worker was not providing direct care to residents, the memo said, and had not been at work since April 8. No residents are displaying symptoms, according to the memo, but monitoring and isolation measures were being put into place.

But Klassen worries there will be more to come. She knows employees at the home her dad is in work at different facilities. Klassen has heard the same story from friends who have parents in long-term care.

The issue of limiting employees to one facility has come up repeatedly at the daily COVID-19 briefings at the Manitoba legislature.

Chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa has responded by saying the health authority is working toward making that happen. On Friday, she said a timeline is coming next week for preventing care-home workers from visiting multiple sites.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents thousands of the province's health-care workers, says the government has approached unions about restricting individuals to working at one site. CUPE's national health-care co-ordinator, Shannon McAteer, confirms many staff in health care are working at multiple sites. 

"This is because of the lack of full-time jobs throughout the system. There is a staffing crisis in health care that predates the COVID-19 pandemic," said McAteer.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says its current policy does not prevent an employee from working at more than one site.

Klassen says that has to change in order to protect those who have been clearly been identified as the most vulnerable during this pandemic.

In the meantime, she's waiting for officials here to introduce such rules.

"I don't understand why they haven't," she said.

"I am sure if their loved ones were in these personal care homes, they would do it."


Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

With files from Bartley Kives and Vera-Lynn Kubinec