Ottawa

'Something is bound to break': More long-term care staff needed, families say

Families of residents at an Orléans care home say a COVID-19 outbreak is worsening long-standing understaffing problems.

Deaths mount at eastern Ontario long-term care homes

The Madonna Care Community, a long-term care home in Orléans, has had more than 30 cases of COVID-19 since an outbreak began at the beginning of April 2020. (Jacques Corriveau/CBC)

Families of residents at an Orléans care home say a COVID-19 outbreak is worsening long-standing understaffing problems.

Betty Yakimenko, chair of the Madonna Community Care family council, said many residents, such as her 81-year-old mother Elsie Stadler, require help to get out of bed.

"Staff can't keep up with it," Yakimenko said. "Something is bound to break."

The province announced last week health SWAT teams from local hospitals would be reinforcing long-term care homes where outbreaks are present. 

In a statement to CBC News, Sienna Senior Living confirmed there have been 32 positive COVID-19 cases since the first week of April at Madonna. There have been eight deaths and 24 cases remain active. Twelve staff members are currently in isolation.

Yakimenko said it's unclear whether anybody from a health SWAT team has come to the home or what support they could provide. She said on top of more nurses, personal support workers are needed.

She said staffing levels have always been an issue, but measures like restricting family visits and limiting workers to one facility — while necessary — are adding to the strain.

With outbreaks across the province, it's unlikely Madonna is the only facility with a staffing crunch, she added.

"We can't be the only one. Not with the numbers where they are," she said.

Best defence is staff, family says

Mary Anne Frappier's brother, Jacques Beauchamp, also lives at Madonna. She's concerned by what the increasing number of cases suggests about staffing levels.

Betty Yakimenko, chair of the Madonna Community Care family council, says the pandemic has worsened staff shortages at the home, leaving nurses and personal support workers struggling to keep up. 1:05

"The best defence to address a COVID situation in a nursing home is to have enough staff, have enough personal protective equipment," Frappier said. 

"They are very vigilant at that but what's happening now is they don't have enough staff to do the basic essential care."

Frappier said management at the home told her it needs 30 new staff members  — 20 for day shifts and 10 to work overnight. 

The Sienna Senior Living website shows the group that runs Madonna is recruiting. In its statement, Sienna said staff are working day and night to protect residents.

"Their dedication to residents, to each other, and their resolve in fighting COVID-19 are nothing less than heroic," the statement said.

Sienna said it is working with the Champlain Health Region and the long-term care home operational task force to bolster staffing levels. The statement said it is grateful for the government initiatives to support residences.

Numbers of positive cases rising

On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford and Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton announced they had asked the Canadian Forces to send military personnel to help respond to the situation at five facilities

Fullerton said the Ottawa Hospital is one of the healthcare institutions offering support to long-term care homes.

There have been hundreds of COVID-19 related deaths among residents of Ontario's long-term care homes and they remain on the front lines of the pandemic. Modelling shows community transmission is levelling off.

The numbers at Ottawa long-term care and retirement homes show cases are still increasing.

Michael Hurley, regional vice-president of CUPE Ontario, says COVID-19 has made long-term care homes an even more challenging environment to work in, leaving staff anxious and worried about their own health and the health of residents. 1:22

Montfort Long-Term Care Centre has a total of 48 cases and there have been 11 deaths. Carlingview Manor has 45 confirmed cases and Laurier Manor has 43.

According to Revera Living, there have been 50 cases in residents at Stoneridge Manor in Carleton Place, 27 cases among staff and five deaths.

At Almonte Country Haven, in Mississippi Mills, Ont., 23 people have died due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

Union calls staff shortages a chronic issue

Michael Hurley, regional vice-president for CUPE representing health-care workers, said long-term care homes in Ontario face chronic understaffing.

He said more so than bringing hospital staff into long-term care homes, he'd like the province to help get residents to hospital.

"We're asking them to revisit the protocols on safety, we're asking them to test, we're asking them to take residents who are sick to hospital and we're asking them to order industry to produce the kind of equipment that we're short of, in terms of personal protective equipment," Hurley said.

The Ministry of Health has previously said residents can be taken to hospital.

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