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Coronavirus: Calgary long-term care facility recruiting staff as death toll rises to 18

Coronavirus: Calgary’s McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre recruiting staff as death toll rises to 18
WATCH: Eighteen people living at Calgary's McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre have died due to COVID-19. As Adam MacVicar reports, new health measures from the province are being welcomed at the facility as it works to stabilize its staff.

An additional death has been reported at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths at the Calgary long-term care facility to 18.

READ MORE: 1 additional death from COVID-19 in Alberta; province will send equipment to other areas of Canada: Kenney

According to Revera, the operator of the facility, 59 residents and 40 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 to date, and a total of 18 people have recovered.

The first resident at the facility tested positive in late March, and the care facility has not been accepting new residents since then, a statement from Revera said.

Staff stabilization

According to Revera’s chief medical officer Dr. Rhonda Collins, a large-scale recruitment effort is underway at the facility to help stabilize staffing levels.

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“Revera’s regional and national recruitment teams have contributed to the COVID-19 response by adding 20 new staff members from the Calgary community to [the] McKenzie Towne team in the last week, including nurses, health-care aides and culinary, recreation, housekeeping and administrative staff,” Collins said in a statement to Global News.

Thirty-seven new staff, along with 10 agency staff members, have been hired at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre since the outbreak began, not including the nursing resources and clinical expertise provided to the facility by Alberta Health Services, Collins said.

READ MORE: 1 additional death from COVID-19 in Alberta; province will send equipment to other areas of Canada: Kenney

Revera said there have been several families that have reached out to the executive director of the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre on behalf of people in the Calgary community who are interested in joining the staff at the facility.

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“We appreciate their interest and the support of the community, whose daily parades outside the home have lifted the spirits of the residents and staff alike,” Collins said in a statement.

“We continue to recruit staff in Calgary and across Canada to help us manage the increased staffing demands of maintaining outbreak protocols, delivering clinical nursing and personal care, doing enhanced cleaning and serving meals for residents in our long-term care homes and retirement residences.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney confirmed on Saturday that further measures will be introduced aimed at providing a stable workforce within the province’s continuing care facilities.

“We do not want to repeat here the horror story of what happened in Montreal, where suddenly you saw staff abandon the residents,” Kenney said. “We need to support the workforce in these continuing care facilities.”

New measures welcomed

On Friday, Alberta health officials introduced new protocols for long-term care facilities as the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said every option is being explored when it comes to controlling spread in seniors’ care homes.

The new measures state that all workers at sites must wear masks at all times when near patients or near others and continuing care staff must only work at one site.

The province has also expanded its testing eligibility to include more symptoms.

READ MORE: Reality check: Would Alberta benefit by letting COVID-19 spread among young people to build up herd immunity?

The stricter protocols were welcomed by CUPE Alberta, the union representing many workers in the province’s long-term care facilities.

“We’re happy this happened. We’re pleased that it’s happened. We just wish that it happened a little bit earlier,” CUPE Alberta president Rory Gill said.

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“We’ll be in touch with our members at McKenzie Towne to make sure that the [personal protective equipment] is distributed properly and that the new regulations and protocols for making sure the residents are as safe as possible are implemented.”

Revera said it applauded the changes introduced by the government regarding PPE but that the new equipment guideline was already adopted by the company.

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“To help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, Revera moved to a universal masking policy for all staff earlier this month,” Collins said in a statement. “Employees working in all areas of our long-term care homes and retirement residences are required to wear a surgical mask at all times.”

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According to Revera, all staff at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre have been required to wear masks since March 25.

“We know, tragically, how many folks have been lost, and this is something else that’s really taking a toll on our members because these are residents they work with day in, day out. Some of them have known them for long periods of time so it’s particularly emotional for them as well,” Gill said.

“But they’re doing the very best they can under circumstances I don’t know many of us could imagine.”