Ottawa

Almonte care resident feels in the dark about COVID-19 outbreak as home pledges more transparency

While the Almonte Country Haven is promising to be more transparent after revealing that a COVID-19 outbreak has killed 10 of its residents, one resident is questioning why more information wasn't shared with residents and family members sooner.

Little information shared with residents and family since outbreak declared 2 weeks ago

A Lanark Country paramedic and staff of the Almonte Country Haven long-term care facility are seen outside the home in Mississippi Mills, Ont. on Thursday. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Latest

  • The home said Saturday an 11th resident had died 'from what we believe is COVID-19.'
  • As of April 11, the number of positive cases at the home stood at 21.

While the Almonte Country Haven is pledging to be more transparent after revealing that a COVID-19 outbreak has killed 10 of its residents, one resident is questioning why more information wasn't shared with residents and family members sooner.

Lee Narraway, 70, said management and staff at the home communicated little to her about the extent of the outbreak since it began, even while the disease claimed the lives of her neighbours.

"We knew nothing in here as far as how many people have been discovered," said Narraway, who spoke to CBC News from her room.

"You would think there was nothing going on."

On March 29, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit declared an outbreak at the home, located west of Ottawa in the municipality of Mississippi Mills, after three residents and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

The home responded by confining all 82 residents to their rooms. Two days later, a male resident died of COVID-19, a fact reported on March 31 by both the health unit and the private owners of the nursing home, OMNI Health Care.

But during the following week, there was little communication from the home or its owners as the outbreak worsened. 

OMNI directed questions about the number of COVID-19 related deaths and positive cases at the home to the local health unit, which said that information was up to the home to release.

While the health unit provides a daily update of cases and deaths across the region, it doesn't break down numbers by individual care facilities. The COVID-19 outbreak at Almonte Country Haven is one of six in the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark region.

Lee Narraway, 70, speaks to a CBC reporter from her shared room inside the Almonte Country Haven care facility. Narraway said management and staff have shared little information with her about the extent of the outbreak. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Not 'particularly open'

Narraway said she first realized the situation may be worsening when family members asked if she had been tested for the virus. They began to worry after seeing stories in the media, Narraway said.

"I don't think that's being particularly open or particularly fair," said Narraway.

"If there is something going on in the news saying, 'This is what's happening in the place where I'm living,' I'd appreciate it if I understand what's happening in here." 

On Wednesday, the administrator of Almonte Country Haven, Carolyn Della Foresta, sent a letter to families that said eight people had died of complications of COVID-19. The letter, forwarded to CBC News, came 10 days after the outbreak began and a week since the first death was reported. 

The next day, a public statement from the home said two more residents were believed to have died from the respiratory illness, for a total of 10 deaths. The letter also said 20 more residents had tested positive and four were awaiting test results.

In the Wednesday letter, Della Foresta apologized for the lack of communication with family members.

Please know that if we are not answering the phone or responding to an email, it is because we are spending time with your loved ones."​​​​​​- Carolyn Della Foresta, Almonte Country Haven 

"I know that many of you have been reaching out and are frustrated that we haven't been able to answer the phone or get back to you as quickly as we would normally. This is because we have been pressed for time and have been experiencing some staffing challenges," the letter read. 

"Please know that if we are not answering the phone or responding to an email, it is because we are spending time with your loved ones."

Della Foresta said the home would begin to provide regular updates to residents, family and the media.

Dr. Paula Stewart, medical officer of health for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, said the home has stepped up infection control measures in accordance with provincial guidance.

Residents are screened daily for symptoms, have their temperatures taken, and those that develop symptoms are tested. Staff are also screened when reporting for work.

When asked about how the Almonte Country Home handled communication, Stewart defended the administration's handling of the outbreak.

"There is such a huge effort to be managed in an outbreak that they were really focused on the residents in the homes," said Stewart. "Now that they've got systems in place, I think that they're able to look up ... so I think that's really going to improve."

20 more residents tested

In an update sent Friday, Della Foresta said test results for three of the four residents previously tested came back negative.

An additional 20 residents had been tested for COVID-19, she added, because they had previously been in close proximity to someone who tested positive — not because they were showing symptoms.

Della Foresta also committed to providing daily updates and asked the media not to go onto the home's property or approach families.

With files from Matthew Kupfer

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