Nova Scotia

Fear of COVID-19 mounts among home-care clients, as province tries to reassure

Some of the province's most vulnerable people have started cancelling home-care visits because they're worried their workers who travel from home to home could give them COVID-19, a virus they fear they won't survive.

'I will die from this pandemic if I get it,' says home-care client Anne Camozzi, 65

Anne Camozzi of Antigonish, N.S., has been receiving home care for the last 13 years. (Submitted by Anne Camozzi)

Some seniors and people with disabilities are worried the very people who help them to continue living in their own homes may end up giving them COVID-19.

Home-care workers do a variety of tasks including cooking, housekeeping and helping people get dressed. But while Anne Camozzi, 65, of Antigonish, N.S., is thankful for that assistance, she's also worried it might get her killed.

"I will die from this pandemic if I get it," said Camozzi. "I can't be ventilated and because I take immune-suppressing drugs, I can't fight it.

"There are many of us in the disabled community, we are discussing this pandemic as being the end of our lives."

Camozzi has a complex set of medical problems including a degenerative neurological disease that means she must use a wheelchair. She lives alone and has been receiving home care for 13 years.

Since home-care workers travel from house to house helping clients, Camozzi worries they might come in contact with people or surfaces that house the virus. The nature of their job means it's impossible to physically distance from those they help. Camozzi notes, for instance, her worker helps her get dressed.

Camozzi is an artist and author. (Submitted by Anne Camozzi)

The Nova Scotia government and one prominent home-care agency say workers have the tools to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including the necessary equipment.

The province said its been in talks with home-care agencies during the outbreak and they are following the direction of the chief medical officer of health. That includes training home-care workers to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Home-care workers are using masks, gloves and other protective equipment when the situation calls for it, according to an email from provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis. She said the equipment is used when there is a risk of a worker contracting the virus or another infectious disease.

Last week, the Nova Scotia Health Authority shared its guidelines for preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 for home and community care with home-care agencies. The health authority then sent an updated version on Thursday and held an information session. 

"We are committed to sharing as much information as we can with our health-system partners," said MacInnis. 

All home-care workers are also screening clients before a visit to make sure they don't have coronavirus, said MacInnis. 

Janet Simm is president and CEO of Northwood. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Camozzi is taking her own precautions as well. She has rubbed her hands raw while disinfecting her home after workers leave in an attempt to kill any COVID-19 that may lurk on surfaces they touched.

She's also cancelled her evening home care, and she's not the only client to do so.

Northwood, a non-profit organization in Halifax that runs two long-term care facilities and an extensive home-care program, has also had several cancellations, according to CEO Janet Simm. But she said they aren't necessary. 

All home-care staff have been trained to prevent the spread the COVID-19, she said. They practise physical distancing while in the community and are screened by occupational health and safety officials to make sure they are healthy and can provide services safely.

Northwood's home-care workers are also equipped with a kit that contains gloves and a mask, should they need them. And workers screen clients before they enter the home to make sure they haven't recently travelled and or have coronavirus symptoms.

"We do not want people to cancel required service out of fear," said Simm. "We do want to reassure our clients that our staff are prepared and our staff are well-trained and we are doing those screenings to make sure that we are providing safe care."