A 65-year-old Antigonish, N.S., woman, who lives alone and with a severe neurological disorder, says the COVID-19 outbreak has left her “terrified” of the very people she relies on for survival: home-care workers.
“I’m sleeping in my clothes because I can’t get undressed into pajamas by myself at night,” says Anne Camozzi, a wheelchair user who doesn’t have enough strength in her hands to feed herself, or change her clothes.
“I was too afraid to have workers come in at night who have been on the road all day without clear protocols.”
Camozzi says she doesn’t blame her home-care workers, feeling the provincial government didn’t have a pandemic plan specific to home care in place early enough.
She’s cut her home-care service in half due to to fear of workers not being adequately informed about proper protocols and the use personal protective equipment.
“As of last week, home-care workers started asking the question, ‘do you have a fever? Do you have a cough? Has anyone been in your home?’, but that didn’t happen until March 26,” Camozzi said.
An updated version was shared six days later.
Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union, says requests were put forward by the union for a home-care pandemic plan long before the fist cases of COVID-19 were reported in Nova Scotia
“There was no plan in place. Things were ramping up for acute care but I was bringing up long-term care, and home-care with the department and they were giving us no answers,” MacLean said.
During the provincial COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, the provincial medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said all home-care workers have been provided with appropriate guidelines.
“They do have appropriate steps with infection control measures and personal protection equipment to keep them as safe as possible but it is a reality, health care workers will get exposed,” Strang said.
According to an email statement from the health department, screening before home visits and point of care risk assessments, are just some of many safety measures put in place for home-care agencies.
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Whether or not a home-care worker is supposed to use PPE, depends on the assessment conducted prior to entering the home.
The department says home-care workers use the same PPE for a COVID-19 patient, as they would for someone with a respiratory illness like influenza.
There are also plans in place for the delivery of aerosol generating procedures.
The NSGEU learned on Thursday, that five home-care workers were forced into self-isolation due to potential COVID-19 exposure, after entering a client’s home where a family member had tested positive for COVID-19.
MacLean says some home-care workers are reporting issues with clients not being forthcoming about their risks of COVID-19 exposure.
“One thing they’re running into is not every client is truthful. When travel was an issue they had people that were traveling in their houses,” MacLean said.
At Northwood in Halifax, staff shortages have led to services having to be tailored back and prioritized based on different levels of need.
“We know that this is less than ideal. Because we are so challenged with our work force, we provide service based on level of priority. Priority is determined based on a number of factors including physical needs and available support systems,” Murray Stenton, a Northwood spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement.
Andrew Jantzen is a recipient of Northwood home care. He lives with a connective tissue disorder which means he needs assistance for everyday tasks like bathing, changing his clothes and eating meals.
He says he’s had several home-care visits abruptly cancelled due to staff shortages.
The provincial government says under the state of emergency order, home-care workers are considered essential and are exempt from gathering limits but must adhere to other public health protocols.
Camozzi feels home care during COVID-19 should only be available to those with the highest amount of need for assistance.
“There are some people who get stockings on, there are some people who get exercise, there are some people who get respite for dementia to go shopping. They should not be allowed to do that anymore. This is a pandemic time.”