Daughter alleges PSW exposed her elderly parents to COVID-19 in their home

A personal support worker from a firm under contract to a government agency allegedly exposed an elderly couple in Ajax, Ont. to COVID-19 when she was working in their home and not wearing a mask at all times, according to the couple's daughter.

PSW failed to wear mask while working for firm under contract to government agency, daughter says

Jillian Danford, an Ajax, Ont. resident, is alleging that a personal support worker exposed her elderly parents to COVID-19 in their home by not wearing a mask at all times. (Simone Hugh)

A personal support worker from a firm under contract to a government agency exposed an elderly couple in Ajax, Ont. to COVID-19 when she was working in their home and not wearing a mask at all times, the couple's daughter alleges.

Jillian Danford, an Ajax resident, told CBC News on Tuesday that her parents tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Feb. 25. Her father, 80, has cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, while her mother, 79, suffers from dementia.

According to CBI Health Group, the PSW's employer, the worker told the company of her positive test result on Monday, Feb. 22. Danford said the PSW was last in her parents' home on Sunday, Feb. 21. Durham Region's website says people who've been tested for COVID-19 must self-isolate while waiting for their test result.

Danford said the PSW, or home-care worker, was negligent in this case. She said PSWs should treat private homes as if they are long-term care homes and wear personal protective equipment properly, follow public health guidelines and be trained in infection prevention and control measures.

"We're not saying that the PSWs aren't great workers, hands on with my parents and my mom ,especially. But there's a lot left to be desired. And it's pretty scary knowing that you're coming into the house and you're not fully preparing yourself," Danford said.

"It's my understanding, and it's government regulation, I thought, that once you're tested or you're exposed to COVID, that you're supposed to quarantine for 14 days ...  And she was at my parents the day before."

Danford said the exposure is a cautionary tale and a reminder that children have to be vigilant for their parents in home care In the same way that the Canadian Armed Forces revealed terrible conditions inside long-term care homes.

"We have to be the army for our family. Because it's private care, we have to speak for them," Danford said.

The parents of Jillian Danford are pictured here in a still image from a family video. (Supplied by Jillian Danford)

Health-care services provider investigating

CBI Health Group, a community health-care services provider under contract to the Central East Local Health Integration Network, said in a statement on Tuesday it has launched an investigation.

"We were very distressed to hear this news. Our thoughts are with the family at this time, and we are all hoping for their quick recovery," the company said in the statement.

"We are in the midst of a thorough internal investigation to determine what occurred. At this time, we can not provide any additional comment on this specific incident but we are taking this matter very seriously."

According to Danford, her parents have about three PSWs come to their home every week at different times to provide care. She said all of them have not always worn their masks properly. One, in particular, who is comfortable with the family, would sometimes be caught wearing her mask under her chin. 

On Monday, Feb. 22, the family was told by CBI Health Group on the telephone that one of its PSWs would not be going to the home and would be in quarantine for two weeks. The company would not confirm that the PSW had COVID-19 and Danford said she then called the PSW herself. The PSW confirmed that she did, in fact, have COVID-19.

Family members, in response to the news, got tested. Danford's father started coughing, and he and her mother got positive test results after being tested in their home. 

On Friday, Feb. 26, Danford's mom was losing her balance and family members called for an ambulance. 

Next PSW shows up also not wearing enough PPE, daughter alleges

While the paramedics were inside the home, Danford and her brother waited outside and encountered a PSW from the same company coming down the sidewalk to provide care to her parents. She was wearing only a blue face mask, "one of the masks that I would wear to the grocery store," and Danford told her that the paramedics were inside because her parents have COVID-19 and that her PPE was not up to standard.

"And so I said to her: 'Where are you going? Like, where are you going dressed like this?' And she said: 'What's going on? Why are there paramedics here?' And I said: "Because my parents tested positive for COVID. And you're about to get COVID had you have gone in there. And this is not how you dress.' Why am I telling PSWs how to dress? This is not my job description. I'm just a family member," she said.

Danford said the company is not telling its PSWs that they were going into a home where people have COVID-19. As for her mother, she was taken to hospital and released that night. 

Now, her parents are "doing okay," Danford said. She described their condition as "mild to moderate" as opposed as "moderate to critical." However, on Sunday, Feb. 28, no PSWs went to the home and one did not appear until Monday.

"It's a scary time because just last week I went to a Zoom funeral for one of my parents' friends. And here, my parents have it at this age. And because of negligence," she said.

Danford said PSWs need to be retrained and told they can report to their companies when their supply of PPE is low.

"Something has to be done. They have to be educated," she said.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network in Toronto, says: 'When we hear cases like this, it just reminds us how we can't let our guards down.' (CBC)

In its statement, CBI Health Group said it has "very strict policies" on self-screening and self-isolation and it reinforces those policies with its staff.

"Staff are required to screen themselves every day, and have been repeatedly instructed to self-isolate immediately if they are displaying any symptoms or while waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test," the company said.

"We provide our staff with adequate amounts of PPE, as well as communication and training on how to properly use it. Staff are expected to wear masks, gloves and eye protection at all times while in close proximity to our clients," the statement reads.

"We continually reach out to our staff to reinforce our expectations regarding the health and safety of our clients."

Safety of 'utmost importance,' LHIN says

The Central East Local Health Integration Network said in a statement on Tuesday that the employer is responsible for all infection prevention and control training and supplies and public health units are responsible for identifying and notifying close contacts.

"The safety of patients is of utmost importance to the Central East LHIN," Karen O'Brien, senior manager of communications for the Central East LHIN.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network in Toronto, said home care workers need to wear proper PPE to mitigate risks.

"When we hear cases like this, it just reminds us how we can't let our guards down," he said.

With files from Lauren Pelley and Derick Deonarain