Thunder Bay

Inside an outbreak: What's happened since COVID-19 was discovered at a Thunder Bay long-term care home

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread at the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont., management have scrambled to respond amidst growing concerns of family members.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Southbridge Roseview on Nov. 17 after a staff member tested positive

An outbreak of COVID-19 was declared at the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Nov. 17. (Matt Vis/CBC)

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread at the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay, Ont., management has scrambled to respond amidst growing concerns of family members.

The outbreak was first declared at the "Heritage home area" after one staff member tested positive on Nov. 17., and at first, it looked like the long-term care home may have escaped the worst.

A letter from the home's executive director Joanne Lent, sent to "family and friends" on Nov. 20, said that the home "had no symptomatic residents and all COVID swabs returned to the home … have been negative for COVID-19 for both residents and staff."

Nevertheless, just one day later, a facility-wide outbreak was declared after three residents tested positive.

In an emailed statement from Southbridge senior official Candace Chartier, she admitted neither Southbridge nor the Thunder Bay District Health Unit "have a definitive answer" about how COVID entered the home.

Chartier said an investigation was ongoing, as they tried to determine whether "initial entry" came from a staff member or from an "essential caregiver."

Family members raise concerns about outbreak management and resident care

During a virtual town hall with Southbridge Roseview on Nov. 25, family members raised concerns about how the respiratory disease spread through the facility, if the quality of care for residents had been affected, staffing levels and stories about patients on "memory care floors" wandering through the home.

In response to the questions, management shared that additional infection prevention and control measures had been implemented, including staff being assigned to work in dedicated areas of the home, residents being cohorted depending on their symptomatic and possible exposure status and the hiring of new staff.

Among the 57 new staff members were several infection prevention and control (IPAC) experts, including the IPAC coordinator from Ontario's central West region.

Two people from long-term care management and consulting firm Extendicare Assist — who had together helped manage previous COVID-19 outbreaks in three long-term care homes in Ontario — were also brought in to manage the growing case numbers.

In a letter summarizing the town hall sent to family members on Nov. 26, executive director Lent added that staff and residents were being tested every five days, and wrote that "rapid tests are not yet available … [but] once they do become available, the Ontario government has directed that they be used to test asymptomatic staff."

All new staff members are required to receive a negative COVID test result prior to starting, and are then subject to surveillance testing every five days.

57 active cases at Southbridge Roseview, as of Thursday

The outbreak continued to grow over the ensuing days.

As of Dec. 3, two residents had died, six cases were resolved, and 57 cases remained active — of which 33 were residents and 24 were staff members.

During the now-weekly virtual town hall with Southbridge staff, family members continued to express their frustration and concern in the comments section. 

Community members in Thunder Bay have rallied around staff and residents at Southbridge Roseview by creating and posting positive signs outside the long-term care home. (Submitted by Amy Aldrich)

They asked for clarity on where residents were living before testing positive for COVID-19 and being cohorted, if residents were being regularly bathed or checked on while eating, and again, how the disease was spreading through the home.

While management didn't directly answer the question of how the disease was spreading, they offered reassurances to family members of continued care and recreational activities, new hires — 15 more staff are expected to start work on Friday — and enhanced infection control measures like additional cleaning, health screenings and PPE audits.

They also thanked members of the community for rallying around the staff, residents and families at Southbridge Roseview to provide snacks, refreshments, activities for residents, mental health support and a volunteer campaign to post homemade signs and holiday decorations outside the home.

Southbridge officials said they hope to resolve several cases in the coming days.