N.S. nursing homes work to minimize COVID-19 threat

Click to play video: 'Contingency plans in place to keep impacts of COVID-19 away from Nova Scotians at nursing homes'
Contingency plans in place to keep impacts of COVID-19 away from Nova Scotians at nursing homes
WATCH: Thousands of Nova Scotians live in nursing homes, but plans are in place to protect this population. Alexa MacLean has more on what nursing homes are doing to prepare. – Mar 19, 2020

Thousands of Nova Scotians live in nursing homes and long term care facilities across the province.

This population, the majority of whom are over the age of 60 and may have underlying health issues, have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to the potentially life threatening effects of the coronvairus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 2 more presumptive cases identified in Nova Scotia, 5 now confirmed

Which is why work is ongoing by Nova Scotia nursing homes and public health officials to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 inside these facilities.

“In Nova Scotia, part of the licensing is that every nursing home and long term care facility must have contingency plans, they have to have a business continuity plan and part of that requires that pandemic plan,” Michele Lowe said, the managing director of the Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association.

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Lowe says pandemic plans are ‘well established’ and are commonly used to lessen the negative impacts of influenza outbreaks.

READ MORE: N.S. bans evictions while committing funds to Feed Nova Scotia, income assistance

Further measures have been added to these plans to help lessen the threats of COVID-19, including widespread screening of people and mail parcels.

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“Where in the past mail has come to the front desk, if there was an influenza breakout it would still be distributed. Right now, we have homes who are taking parcels and mail and isolating them into a room for 48 hours,” Lowe said.

That sentiment is echoed by Josie Ryan, the director of long term care at the Northwood facility.

“If you’re sending stuff to the residents, make sure that you’re not sick when you’re sending the stuff. They can be dropped off at the door, trying not to have too much people at the doors. Even our vendors are going in through back doors, they’re all being screened,” Ryan said.

READ MORE: Dartmouth nursing home resident staying connected during COVID-19 through technology

New presumptive cases in N.S. have been announced on a daily basis since March 15.

British Columbia has been particularly hard hit by the virus, killing six residents in the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.

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The Nova Scotia government has restricted all visitors from entering long term care facilities for the foreseeable future.

Lowe has also reached out to the nursing home association in B.C. to see if there is any advice to pass along.

“We want to learn from them in terms of how they are responding with their members and ensuring that anything that we have not thought of, that they are able to share with us around some of those issues,” Lowe said.

READ MORE: Daughter of man at Lynn Valley Care Centre says loneliness is a big issue

In the meantime, nursing homes are preparing for potential staff shortages as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

Staff who had been working with programs that may be suspended, will be redeployed.

Additionally, some facilities like Shannex, are hiring additional people to help lessen the blow of potential shortages.

“We have members who have put the call out to displaced workers as a result of the COVID impact to their employment and bringing them in, in terms of training them to help them support the whole team,” she said.

All the while working to keep the spirits of residents and support workers bright as daily public health updates continue.

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“They are the family when their family can’t be there and they take that so seriously and so any kind of encouragement that friends and family and that the community can give to our staff is so appreciated,” Lowe said.

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