Maples care home not fully staffed during Friday crisis, despite claims it was, union says

The Maples Long Term Care Home was short staffed on Friday when the COVID-19 outbreak accelerated so quickly that multiple ambulances and paramedics were called to deal with a dozen residents, says the union representing health care aides.

Full staff is not enough during Covid-19 outbreak, expert says

Paramedics arrive at Maples Long Term Care Home on Saturday evening. The night before, four ambulances were called to help a dozen residents in distress. Three were taken to hospital and two died. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

A Winnipeg care home was short staffed on Friday when the COVID-19 outbreak accelerated so quickly that multiple ambulances and paramedics were called to deal with a dozen residents, says the union representing health care aides.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees disputes a claim by provincial health officials, who said The Maples Long Term Care Home was close to full staffing when the calls for emergency help came in.

At a rare weekend press conference, health officials from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Revera — the for-profit company that owns the Maples home — said nursing was at full complement with seven on shift that evening, and 13 out of 15 health care aides were also on duty.

CUPE's health care coordinator Shannon McAteer said the number of health care aides claimed by officials is not true. She said union members told her there were only seven when paramedics arrived. 

"The staff are quite upset," said McAteer. "Revera is not being forthcoming or being honest with the numbers."

Revera's vice-president Jason Chester said there were also 15 general staff to support health care aides, 12 security personnel and three management that night, which are "part of the enhancement" to deal with the extra work required to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak. 

"Even if Maples was staffed to baseline, it's clear that it this is insufficient for providing the level of care that residents deserve in a time of great need," says Darlene Jackson of the Manitoba Nurses Union. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The Manitoba Nurses Union announced it's investigating the health officials' claim of full staffing.

"Despite what the WRHA and Revera have claimed, we have serious doubt that Maples had a full nursing complement working the evening of Nov. 6, and we are investigating further," MNU president Darlene Jackson said in an email to CBC News.

A nurse, who CBC is not naming because they fear repercussions, said the home was short staffed both days of the weekend, following the Friday incident, when it came to health care aides able to put residents to bed and help with toilet needs.

She says the system is broken and residents are paying for under staffing.

"These are human beings and they're getting treated worse than … like pets. Yet everybody seems to not see it and the people that are supposed to be helping us help them are not doing anything," said the nurse.

Revera said it stands by the number of health care aides it claims were on duty Friday night.

During Friday's evening shift, 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., there were more than 50 staff in the building for 169 residents, including seven registered nurses, 13 health care aides, 15 general labour staff to support the health care aides, 12 security personnel, three management staff and regional staff, company spokesman Larry Roberts said in an email.

"We are complementing our permanent staff with agency staff to cover off absences related to COVID-19 self-isolation and single-site restrictions. We are also supporting our HCAs with general labour staff and security personnel," he said.

Revera said it is also actively recruiting registered nurses in Manitoba "despite a serious shortage of trained, registered nursing staff in the province," Roberts said.

To date in the past year, 51 nursing staff and 156 HCAs have been hired for Revera-owned Manitoba care homes.

At Maples in particular, seven licensed practical nurses and 12 HCAs have been hired since April, according to Roberts.

Dr. Samir Sinha says now is the time for the WRHA to get 20 staff to help residents at Maples care home. Waiting until the Red Cross arrives on Friday is not good enough, he says. (CBC)

Roberts also said nursing staff on Friday evening did the right thing calling the ambulances on Friday. He said they observed 10 residents refusing nutrition or hydration, which is a potential sign of rapid decline common with COVID-19.

Three residents were transported to hospital and three received intravenous fluid therapy at the home.

But Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, who has been closely watching the long term care home crisis in Manitoba unfold, said residents would typically get IVs for dehydration "because there's not enough staff around to actually hydrate residents or they might not have family members there who can hydrate them."

He is critical of what he calls the level of inaction on the part of the province and the WRHA, who could have learned from the devastating death tolls in care homes in Ontario and Quebec during the first wave of the coronavirus. 

He questions why the WRHA did not step in immediately when the Red Cross assessed 20 extra staff are needed but can't be deployed until Friday. 

"[The WRHA has] plenty of pairs of hands that [they] can get in there tomorrow who can actually make sure that these families and the staff have the support they need," said Sinha, who recently completed work on an expert advisory panel on COVID-19 in long term care, commissioned by Revera.

He finds deeply concerning the WRHA's claim that they are learning about the COVID-19 as they go along.

"This horror show has been playing out in provinces like Ontario and Quebec, where we've seen several homes collapse and we've actually seen how these things can get bad pretty quickly," he said.

"Winnipeg actually had an opportunity to do a proper dress rehearsal," said Sinha, who also is also a faculty member at University of Toronto and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Manitoba personal care homes have been underfunded much like their counterparts across the country, he added. 

"While the minister of health says 'we got this,' it's clear that Winnipeg and Manitoba were not learning the lessons that we learned in the rest of the country so that they could be ready to actually deal with these outbreaks."

If you have a tip about personal care homes, click here to contact Jill Coubrough.

with files from Holly Caruk