Thunder Bay

Concerns growing about quality of care at Thunder Bay home in COVID-19 outbreak

A total of 64 residents, along with 40 staff members, have been confirmed cases during the outbreak. Twelve residents have died from the virus

The first COVID-19 case at the home was reported on Nov. 17.

The Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay. (Matt Vis/CBC)

In the month since the initial case was reported, over 100 people living or working in a Thunder Bay long-term care home have tested positive for COVID-19.

The outbreak at Southbridge Roseview was first declared on Nov. 17 in one area of the facility after a staff member was found to be positive through surveillance testing. A facility-wide outbreak was declared days later after three residents were confirmed to have the virus.

A total of 64 residents, along with 40 staff members, are confirmed cases. Surveillance testing of all staff and residents is being done every five days. The most recent round last weekend detected eight new cases.

Twelve residents have died from the virus, which account for all but two of the total COVID-19 deaths in the Thunder Bay District.

"It's a very significant outbreak. It hit us fast. It hit us hard," said Candace Chartier, the chief seniors' advocate and strategic partnerships officer for Southbridge. "We're basically doing everything we can right now to make sure our residents are safe and well cared for."

'They're scared they're going to die'

Notwithstanding the efforts by Southbridge during the outbreak, staff and family members told CBC News they've become increasingly concerned with the home's ability to meet the residents' basic needs.

A worker at the home, whose identity CBC News has agreed to keep confidential because of concerns over losing her job, said there was a major staffing crisis at the home during the first few weeks of the outbreak.

The worker said that meant some residents were often left without assistance for even the most essential tasks, like eating and drinking. 

"They're scared they're going to die," she said.

An information document provided to families said residents' food and fluid intakes are being monitored. 

"Nutritional assessments, including food and fluid intake, are conducted daily by the dietician, nursing and medical teams to determine if residents are exhibiting new and/or unusual signs and symptoms," the document reads.

A family member of a separate COVID-19 positive resident, whose identity CBC News has also agreed to keep confidential over concerns about maintaining access to the family member in the home, said wrong medication was given. The family member said that has left the resident in deteriorating condition with poor cognitive functioning.

The document acknowledged there have been "minor delays" of up to an hour or two in providing medication.

New staff

Chartier said staffing levels have increased with 60 additional workers, primarily personal support workers, but also including management and infection prevention and control resources, having been brought in to work at the home. She said the workers, who came from across Ontario, all had previous long-term care or hospital experience.

"The staffing ratios have now increased in the hot zone areas of the home, but even in the other areas of the home, staffing ratios have remained the same if not even higher with the addition of all our new staff," Chartier said.

Southbridge has put out newspaper and radio advertisements looking for additional registered staff, Chartier added.

Unifor Local 229 president Kari Jefford, who represents several occupations within the home, described the state of the facility as "chaos."

Kari Jefford, president of Unifor Local 229, represents several occupations working within the Southbridge Roseview long-term care home in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

"It's increasingly difficult to follow a care plan when you don't know the care plan," Jefford said. "It's a pretty scary situation. You have residents who have cognitive issues, who are COVID-19 positive, who are wandering throughout the units without extra staffing to assist, redirect or keep those residents as safe as possible."

"The infection spread like wildfire."

'Desperate and helpless'

Maureen Halushak, whose mother lives at the home, but has not tested positive for COVID-19, said she reached out to local politicians at both the provincial and federal levels and found out that Red Cross support had been offered for the home.

"I feel very desperate and helpless. What can family members do at this point?" Halushak said. 

"My mom is doing well now, but I'm terrified if they continue to be understaffed and do not accept offers of help … I'm just concerned my mom could get sick in the future and it could be prevented."

Chartier said the home has daily calls with a number of community health partners, including the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, North West Local Health Integration Network, Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

"Right now, if we went with the Red Cross we would probably be duplicating resources," Chartier said. 

"Because of the large number of [personal support workers] we have, we feel we have our resources in place and I think that the Red Cross resources would be better utilized elsewhere."

Chartier said there are encouraging signs, with both the number of active cases as well as the infection rate having decreased over the last two weeks.

As of Tuesday, the home's website showed 16 residents and 13 staff members who are active cases. At its peak, there were three times as many residents — and double the number of staff members — who were active cases.