Offer of Red Cross aid catches long-term care homes by surprise

The administrators of at least three long-term care homes in the Ottawa area say they were blindsided by news the Canadian Red Cross was being sent into their facilities. 

At least 3 long-term care homes say they weren't contacted in advance

A Canadian Red Cross volunteer adjusts a tent at a mobile hospital in Quebec in April 2020. The federal government plans to send Red Cross workers into a handful of long-term care homes in the Ottawa area — news that's come as a shock to at least three of those facilities. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The administrators of at least three long-term care homes in the Ottawa area say they were blindsided by news the Canadian Red Cross was being sent into their facilities. 

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced in a tweet Sunday afternoon the federal government was planning to send workers from the disaster response charity into seven long-term care facilities in the Ottawa area "to help assess and stabilize the situation."

A spokesperson for Blair provided CBC with a list of seven facilities and said the request for assistance came from the Ontario government.

Ginette Boudin, a spokesperson for the owner of the St. Jacques Nursing home in Embrun, Ont., told Radio-Canada on Monday that despite the home being on the list, she'd heard nothing about the effort. 

The Ontario government's COVID-19 tracking website lists St. Jacques as experiencing an outbreak with fewer than five staff members testing positive for COVID-19.

Boudin denied that Red Cross workers are being sent to the home.

Blair's office directed CBC to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, saying it was the Ontario government that made the request and provided the list of facilities.

That ministry thanked the federal government in an emailed statement Tuesday and said the strategy is a work-in-progress.

"Over the coming days we will be finalizing details, operationalizing their offer of support, and determining which homes would benefit most from their assistance," it said.

Family members worried by news

Chantal Crispin, administrator for the Sarsfield Colonial Home in Ottawa's east end, told CBC News she was also caught by surprise when she saw her 46-bed facility on the list.

Crispin said there have been no cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff at the home and that no employees were off sick, so she couldn't understand why assistance from the Red Cross would be needed.

The news distressed employees and the family members of residents, Crispin said, who worried about a potential outbreak.

After communicating with a representative from Ontario's Ministry of Health on Monday, Crispin said she was assured her home was mistakenly included on the list of homes slated for assistance, and that the ministry was looking into the source of the bad information.

The operators of a third home, Madonna Care Community, said in a statement Monday evening they had not asked for the Red Cross to step in, and while they were "thankful" for the offer, the help wasn't needed.

Two workers and 47 residents died in spring outbreak at the Orléans home. It was declared over in early June. 

"Madonna Care Community is currently stable with only one team member that has tested positive," wrote Swaraj Mann, spokesperson for Sienna Senior Living. "All safety protocols are in place and staffing is secure."

Patient transport attendants disinfect a stretcher after working at the Madonna Care Community during this spring's outbreak. The home currently only has one active COVID-19 case, and its operators say they don't need help from the Red Cross. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

CBC previously reported that the federal government was offering to send the Red Cross — a charity that receives funding from the Canadian government and has a long history of responding to disasters — into COVID-19 hotspots as case numbers rise and parts of the country slip into a second wave.

A senior government official had said the Red Cross could provide logistical support long-term care homes, help isolate infected individuals, provide assistance with feeding and caring for the sick and offer psychological aid.

More than 600 Red Cross workers have been helping out in 25 long-term care homes in Quebec following a series of severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the spring. The organization has also helped to deliver food to temporary foreign workers isolating in southwestern Ontario.

The Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury, Ont., says it welcomes the support of the Canadian Red Cross, as the facility is in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

One home welcomes Red Cross

One eastern Ontario long-term care home that's currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak says any assistance from the Red Cross will be appreciated.

Alexandre Gorman, administrator of the 146-bed Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury, Ont., said he welcomes the support of Red Cross workers at his home, where six residents and staff have tested positive.

Gorman said administrators and family members are waiting anxiously for the results of COVID-19 tests paramedics conducted on all residents on Friday.

In the meantime, they're taking precautions and assuming everyone is positive, Gorman said.

"It is really hard for us to know what our needs are because we actually have no clue what the real numbers are," said Gorman. "We're just really happy that the help will be there if it's needed."

With files from Radio-Canada's Claudine Richard-Beaudoin and Denis Babin

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