How these 2 nursing homes bucked the staff vaccination trend

Two Ottawa long-term care homes with the highest staff COVID-19 vaccination rates say the key to successful uptake isn't groundbreaking — good communication and giving time off are some ways they encouraged their employees to take the shot.

95% of staff got COVID-19 shot at Osgoode Care Centre, 90% at Forest Hill

A file photo of a resident looking out from a window at an Ottawa retirement residence on March 28, 2020. Osgoode Care Centre and Forest Hill are two long-term care facilities that have the highest staff vaccination rate in the city, according to a CBC survey. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Two Ottawa long-term care homes with the highest staff COVID-19 vaccination rates say the key to successful uptake isn't groundbreaking — it just involves things like good communication and giving staff time off.

"We've got a really good community within the home. And being open and honest, and rolling up your arm to get the vaccine — it was the thing to do," said Lori Norris-Dudley, president and CEO of Osgoode Care Centre in Ottawa's rural south end.

About 95 per cent of the home's staff are vaccinated — the highest rate among 26 of 28 long-term care homes surveyed by CBC in the Ottawa area. 

CBC's data analysis revealed that on average, only 65 per cent of Ottawa's long-term care home staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, with some homes reporting uptake as low as 43 per cent. 

The low rate of staff vaccinations at these homes are concerning to both families and residents, who in some facilities face further isolation and confinement amid outbreaks.

Norris-Dudley said while there were a few hesitant employees, the majority of the home's staff were eager and even excited to book their appointments after their first meeting about the vaccine.

"There wasn't a lot of hesitancy at all," she said, admitting she had questions herself. "But we did it. There was really no other option in my mind. And it just went well."

On the left, residents at Osgoode Care Centre play physically-distanced bingo. On the right, residents and staff play a nerf gun hunting game inside the home. Both activities took place in the new year, after vaccinations began. (Submitted by Lori Norris-Dudley)

Norris-Dudley said the centre's medical director spoke with staff who had questions, while internal "ambassadors" went around encouraging people to get their shot.

The home also offered time off for employees to make plans and book vaccine appointments.

An Osgoode Care Centre staff member and director of care gets vaccinated against COVID-19. The home has the highest vaccine uptake among staff in Ottawa's long-term care facilities, a CBC survey found. (Submitted by Lori Norris-Dudley)

Despite its high rate of vaccination, Osgoode Care Centre is currently experiencing its first outbreak: one vaccinated staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, said Norris-Dudley. 

The outbreak is difficult for residents, she said, as the city's protocols require some activities to be cancelled.

"The sacrifices our residents have to make are unbearable," she said.

I wasn't sure if I wanted it at first. I was very scared.- Tanya Sunstrum, Forest Hill personal support worker

While Norris-Dudley said the home can't ease all its restrictions even with high immunization rates, they've been looking for creative and safe programming for residents based on Ottawa's colour code — like dining in groups separated by plexiglass, holding physically-distanced bingo, and playing a Nerf gun deer hunt game with staff.

High vaccination at Forest Hill a relief: employee

The Forest Hill long-term care home in Kanata, run by OMNI Health Care, has a staff vaccination rate of 90 per cent — something that gives Tanya Sunstrum some relief going into work.

"Everyone's not on edge. They're not as scared because we're protected. I feel we come to work and it's a safe environment," said Sunstrum, a personal support worker. "It brings up the morale."

She, too, had some hesitancy in the beginning.

"It was a new vaccine coming. I wasn't sure if I wanted it at first. I was very scared," Sunstrum said.

But after researching the vaccine and getting education from her own workplace, Sunstrum said she decided to get the shot. 

"Once I made the phone call [to book my appointment], all my fears pretty much faded away."

A resident at Forest Hill long-term care home gets vaccinated in Ottawa. (Submitted by Susan Bell)

Forest Hill has had a handful of outbreaks — the latest one ending just this month — which makes the vaccine "a light at the end of a tunnel," said administrator Susan Bell.

Most of her staff, Bell said, were "very open" to the vaccine, so there was high uptake from the start.

To encourage those who were less confident, Forest Hill gave employees vaccine fact sheets, while in-house physicians spent one-on-one time with those who were hesitant. The home also gave time off for appointments and made it possible for some staff to get vaccinated at their workplace.

"The staff who were initially hesitant, they also became more confident when they saw their co-workers were accepting the vaccine without any adverse reactions," said Bell.

Bell said there's now less anxiety among staff and residents, and the home is now shifting back to having social activities and allowing small groups.

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