Most COVID-related deaths on P.E.I. involve long-term care residents
Facilities have been understaffed, but still maintaining ‘minimum standard of care,’ officials say
UPDATE: P.E.I. announced a 14th COVID-19 death in Saturday's report. The person is between 60 and 79 years old.
Nine out of the 13 COVID-related deaths reported in P.E.I. through Friday involved residents of long-term care facilities, provincial health officials have revealed.
All of those deaths have been reported since Jan. 14.
At a meeting of P.E.I.'s standing committee on health and social development Friday, MLAs were also told some long-term care facilities have at times been unable to maintain government-mandated staffing levels.
While that has impacted resident care, residents continue to receive a "basic standard" of care, according to government inspectors.
Officials said the nine deaths were either directly attributed to COVID-19 or included the disease as a contributing cause.
They did not reveal where the deaths occurred, citing privacy reasons. They said that information would only be provided should a single facility record five or more deaths.
Officials provided some details on the 10 outbreaks that have been declared in care facilities – three in community care homes and the other seven in long-term care or facilities that provide both long-term and community care.
More than 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in care facilities have been reported as part of those outbreaks. Four of the outbreaks have now been declared resolved.
Kelly Rayner, director of community health, told MLAs that provincial inspectors have visited facilities with outbreaks more than 10 times in the past two weeks.
She said those inspections have found that facilities "are meeting a minimum standard of care" but that "at the height of the outbreak it may look different from the usual standard of care."
MLAs question care standards
As an example, Rayner said a resident who might normally have a shower or a bath might be switched to having a sponge bath during an outbreak.
But MLAs questioned whether minimum standards are being met.
Green MLA Karla Bernard said she was "baffled" that provincial inspectors have been giving a passing grade to facilities "when we know how short-staffed we are at all times, not even able to barely cover the most basic needs of the people who live in our long-term care homes. No one to take you down for lunch, no one to bathe you for days at a time."
Rayner said some homes are operating on provisional licences – meaning they have been unable to meet all standards of care – and that there aren't enough inspectors right now to conduct full inspections.
"Our focus is on the safety and the care of the residents, and so we are pivoting from our regular inspections. So am I saying with those standards they're meeting it? They're not meeting it. We know they're not. But what we're trying to do is provide them guidance and provide oversight to make sure that what is happening may be at a minimum, but it's safe."
Rayner said staffing is an area of concern, with some facilities reporting they have not been able to meet minimum staffing requirements.
"We are concerned about staffing, but to date what the inspectors have assessed is they are meeting a basic standard [of care]," Rayner said.
Under questioning from Liberal MLA Robert Henderson, Rayner said she didn't know how many times facilities had operated below their minimum required staffing complement.
Most outbreaks reported in private facilities
Green MLA Michele Beaton questioned why most outbreaks have taken place in private facilities rather than government manors.
Of the outbreaks, two have occurred in facilities run by Health P.E.I, accounting for fewer than 15 of the 200 positive cases in care facilities.
The rest of the outbreaks have been in private facilities. P.E.I. includes a mix of public and private long-term care facilities. All community care facilities in the province are run privately.
"The same [public health] guidance was given to both public and private long-term care," said Beaton. "What was the difference in why we saw such outbreaks in one type of facility versus the publicly run ones?"
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Sabapathy said there has been "more difficulty" carrying out public health guidance on COVID-19 protocols in private care facilities "for a variety of factors."
"It can depend on staffing levels and staff training, and just who's available to implement that guidance," he said.
"There are some differences when we find working with private facilities, they need a little more support."
In response, Sabapathy said Public Health had provided infection prevention staff to work on-site in private care homes.
Beaton said unions have raised concerns about patient care and staff-to-patient ratios.
"The staff members we are hearing from are definitely concerned about the level of care that is being provided to patients, and they can't do more than they're already doing," she said.
"What we're hearing is that they're understaffed, they're undervalued and they're underpaid."
Health Minister Ernie Hudson said there may be lessons to be learned after the province gets "through this most high-cresting wave of this pandemic that we're dealing with."