Ottawa

West End Villa outbreak could have been avoided with N95 masks, employee says

An employee at the Ottawa long-term care home at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak where eight people have died says workers haven't received the proper equipment to prevent the spread of the virus.

At least 52 residents, 26 staff have tested positive at the long-term care home on Elmira Drive

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on the owner of the West End Villa long-term care home to ‘take responsibility’ for a worsening COVID-19 outbreak where eight residents have died. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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  • On Sept. 20, Extendicare said two more residents had died, bringing the total to 10.

An employee at the Ottawa long-term care home at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak where eight people have died says workers haven't received the proper equipment to prevent the spread of the virus.

West End Villa is experiencing the most severe outbreak seen in a facility in the city in recent months, with at least 78 cases of COVID-19, according to the home's operator, Extendicare. 

At least 52 residents, and 26 staff, have tested positive, and eight residents have died.  

CBC News spoke with an employee of West End Villa on Friday. CBC agreed to protect their identity, due to fears they would lose their job for speaking out.

The employee said the outbreak could have been avoided, had Extendicare provided N95 masks to employees.

[Workers are] going from room to room, working with these residents, caring for them, and they do not have the proper N95 masks to use,​​​​​​.- West End Villa employee

"[Workers are] going from room to room, working with these residents, caring for them, and they do not have the proper N95 masks to use, and this is something that all the staff members are very concerned about," the worker told CBC News.

The employee said when the pandemic began in March, staff were provided with PPE, but not with N95 masks, which are widely considered to be the most effective in preventing the spread of the virus. The employee said staff working directly with COVID-19 positive patients still have not been given N95 masks.  

Company must 'take responsibility'

On Friday afternoon Ontario Premier Doug Ford had harsh words for the home's operator, saying that Extendicare needs to "take responsibility" for the worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

"We have an outbreak in Ottawa right now at West End [Villa]. We've sent in the hospital to take over the long-term care, but the ownership of these long-term care companies, they have to take responsibility. And I'm calling out Extendicare. They have to take responsibility," said Premier Doug Ford during a visit to Ottawa on Friday.

"They're a good company, but we want to make sure that the front-line healthcare workers are protected, until they can protect the patients," he said.

On Friday, the union representing workers at the home said it expects the number of positive cases at West End Villa to rise, and said a number of staff members are currently at home in isolation awaiting test results.

The West End Villa long-term care facility in Ottawa has confirmed 52 residents and 26 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since the end of August. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Union officials also said, despite the premier's remarks that Extendicare should take responsibility, the government also shares in the blame.

"I think the time for talk and hollow words are over," said Candace Rennick, secretary-treasurer of CUPE.

"Workers need to see action, and they're not seeing action. And when they're caring for over forty residents who have confirmed cases of COVID," she said.

"And [they're] seeing their own co-workers going off ill, infected, and dozens more waiting for their test results, and they can't have access to the proper personal protective equipment that's going to keep them safe. The time for talk is over. Workers and residents need action," said Rennick.

Extendicare says it 'understands' Ford's frustration

Extendicare declined CBC's request for an interview, and did not directly answer a question regarding N95 masks. 

In a statement, it said, "Our staff are working incredibly hard and have been throughout the pandemic. Staff across our network, including at West End Villa, are provided with an ample supply of the recommended PPE for long-term care environments. We encourage them to inform us of any specific concerns so that we can see them addressed."

"In regard to the Premier's comments, we understand his frustration. We share it. We learned a lot about COVID-19 in the first wave of the pandemic and we have put an immense amount of work into preparing our homes and protecting the people in them from a second wave."

Extendicare also said staff at the facility have been tested twice a month since June 1.

with files from Ashley Wright

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