How seniors' homes in the Eastern Townships are fighting the spread of COVID-19

Seniors' homes across the province are taking extra precautions to protect residents, who are at a greater risk of complications from the virus because of their age.

20 residents at a Sherbrooke seniors' home have tested positive

In some cases confined to their rooms, workers in seniors' homes are trying to keep residents feeling connected. (Alison Brunette/CBC)

Beverly Littlejohn Goodfellow's seniors' residence, Wales Home in the Eastern Townships, may be on lockdown, but the 85-year-old says people are in good spirits, and it's important to obey the authorities. 

"I know this is the right move to make," she said. "I know this is difficult for people, but we will survive if we take these measures." 

Wales Home is following government rules by restricting access to visitors, and cancelled all in-house activities run by outside volunteers, in an effort to keep COVID-19 from spreading to the residents. 

"I can't be worried about something like that," said Littlejohn Goodfellow. "I'm content because they've taken the measures they have to prevent people bringing it into the building, and I think that can only be accomplished by isolating us from other people." 

Seniors' homes across the province are taking extra precautions to protect residents, who are at a greater risk of complications from the virus because of their age.

At the Résidence Soleil-Manoir in Sherbrooke, 20 people tested positive for COVID-19, and 11 were hospitalized, after a resident contracted the virus from her son. 

The son had not recently returned from travelling, and got infected in the community. He visited the home before heightened safety measures were put in place, and his mother did not show any symptoms until 14 days after their visit. 

All people living in the Résidence Soleil-Manoir Sherbrooke are being confined to their rooms, after eight residents fell ill with COVID-19. The coronavirus was transmitted by the son of one of the residents now in hospital. Public health officials say he contracted it in the community. (Annick Sauvé/Radio-Canada)

Eastern Townships director of public health Alain Poirier said his team has been working on what he calls the "algorithm of contamination," speaking with everyone with whom an infected person has come into contact to figure out where they got the virus. 

He said his department will stop that in a few days or weeks as the virus spreads and it becomes increasingly complicated to track, but the team will continue to focus on specific groups, like health-care workers and seniors. 

"The fact they are grouped together — with the common determinant of their age — comes chronic disease and medication and compromised immune systems, we have the conditions for what happened [at the Résidence Soleil-Manoir]," he said. 

Staff working to keep residents feeling connected 

At Grace Village, a seniors' residence in Lennoxville, visitors, including family and volunteers, were barred from entering two weeks ago, according to director Doug Bowker. 

Staff at Grace Village have taken many of the same precautions as Wales Home, like cancelling activities. 

To help stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation, staff are encouraging family members to write emails to a designated address so they can be printed off and delivered to residents. 

They're also increasing phone check-ins. 

In the Eastern Townships, there is a local branch of Community Aid, an organization that brings volunteers and seniors together to help the elderly continue to live in their homes. 

All groups have been cancelled, from fall prevention workshops, to caregiver support groups, to walking groups. But staff are keeping up their check-ins with seniors, which typically take place in person, by phone.

"It's important to maintain that lifeline," said Sylvie Gilbert Fowlis, the director of Community Aid in the Townships. 

Fowlis said it's vitally important that despite self-isolation, seniors don't experience social isolation, something that is already common for elderly people. 

At the Massawippi Valley Health Centre in Ayer's Cliff, staff are focusing on urgent care during the pandemic in an effort to reduce the stress on hospitals.

Health centre president Dr. Henry Khouri said the co-op — which serves primarily seniors — emphasizes patient education and long-term health to avoid dependence on primary care. 

"We're trying to do our part to keep patients informed, focusing on urgent care, and trying to relieve the reliance on the system as much as possible," said Khouri, adding it's important to avoid a "bottleneck" at screening centres.

"Everything we do is useless without the collaboration of everyone," Poirier said. 

With files from Peter Tardif and Quebec AM

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