An Alberta family is raising concerns about the policies in place at Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre, where a COVID-19 outbreak has been declared. The family says the site is not being transparent enough with residents about the severity of the situation.
The outbreak was first declared on June 13; according to the facility, as of Thursday morning, 54 — or approximately 30 per cent — of the 184 residents have active COVID-19 cases and 21 residents have died.
Dee’s father is in his early 70s, has been a resident at Good Samaritan Southgate for three years and is battling leukemia. Global News has agreed not to publish Dee’s last name or identify her father, due to concerns her father may face repercussions at the long-term care home because she is speaking out.
Dee said she was extremely concerned when the care home first declared it had an outbreak.
“It’s incredibly overwhelming,” she said.
Her father has been tested for the coronavirus three times in four weeks, Dee said. He has tested negative for the virus each time.
“I’m extremely worried. I think you get to a point where you have to come to a realization there are certain things you can’t control and that the livelihood of your family member, and in my case, my father who is my only parent, lies in the hands of other people and their ability to protect him.”
Dee said her father told her he is still moving around the site in his wheelchair. She is worried her father will come into contact with a contaminated surface or object.
She also worries that residents themselves are not being told how serious the situation is; Dee said she reads the latest statistics the facility posts on their website to her father.
“They are living in darkness. They don’t know how many people on their floor have COVID. They don’t know how many nurses who might be working with them on that floor is positive. They really are in the dark,” she said.
The Good Samaritan Society previously said in a statement to Global News that staff are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, outdoor visits have been cancelled, more staff – including AHS staff – have been brought in and that residents’ movements are being restricted.
In Dee’s opinion, however, the operator is not doing enough to keep residents safe.
“Whatever measures they have had in place to this point are clearly not working. The numbers are growing. The mortality rate is increasing. The number of infected staff is increasing and there’s not a lot of transparency,” Dee said.
Dee said the last time she saw her father was in January; there had been plans to visit in March but that was cancelled after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Since then, she’s only been able to speak with him over the phone.
Dee said her father is also feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
“I frequently hear from him, he’s witnessed a number of body bags leaving and that’s, of course, a grim reality. But it’s something that when you’re faced with your own mortality and that visualization being presented to you each day, it only adds to magnify your own anxiety about the situation,” she said.
Dee said her father can see the staff are tired and overworked; at the same time, she said he recognizes what is unfolding around him.
“He feels as though he’s waiting for his result to come back positive… There are definitely days we hear this is front-of-mind for him. He’s put his plans in place for end-of-life in the event this does come to pass. It’s extremely hard as a family member to understand this is where your parent is,” she said.
In a previous statement to Global News, the Good Samaritan Society’s interim president and CEO Michelle Bonnici initially said residents’ movements were restricted; a later statement issued Wednesday clarified that residents remain in their room or wing and, if they are not ill, they are allowed to go outside for fresh air.
“Hand hygiene must also be completed when they return to the care home, and the resident is directed to return directly to their room or wing and advised that they cannot stop and visit with anyone else along the way. Residents are encouraged to wear masks as they come and go into the building,” the statement reads.
Bonnici said, at minimum, weekly letters are sent to residents but case numbers are not included since they are changing rapidly.
However, it seems that could change.
“We are willing to work with residents and families to ensure they have the information they need,” the statement reads.
On Thursday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw explained why Alberta Health Services has not taken over operations of the facility, as it has done with some other care homes during the pandemic.
“An order to take over operations is a step that is not taken lightly and occurs only when a facility is not able to fully comply with the mandatory orders we have in place. This has not been the case here,” Hinshaw said, explaining AHS has been working very closely with the Good Samaritan Society, providing staff and meeting daily to make sure everything possible is being done to support residents and staff.
“I have been assured that all mandatory outbreak protocols are in place. This includes screening and temperature checks twice a day, widespread testing and enhanced cleaning. This is a difficult situation, but local officials are doing everything possible to support all those who are involved.”
Hinshaw said Alberta Health will continue to closely monitor the outbreak.
According to Jennifer Zelmer, president and CEO of the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), long-term care facilities have long-standing vulnerabilities.
“Issues related to infrastructure, multi-bed rooms that are hard to manage, issues related to staffing, issues also related to how long-term care is connected with other parts of the health system,” Zelmer said.
Hinshaw weighed in on Thursday, saying in continuing care facilities where there’s been significant spreads, one of the common themes emerging is a challenge communicating and enforcing social distancing and infection control in units housing patients suffering from cognitive impairment or dementia.
“It’s extremely difficult to help them understand — because of their cognitive impairment — the need to be restrained and isolated in their room and that they can’t be out and about with others,” Hinshaw said.
CFHI recently released a report about how Canada’s long-term care facilities got to where they are today and what they can do in the future to keep residents safe.
Those options include ensuring up-to-date infection prevention standards, virus prevention through testing and contact tracing, improving staffing and staff training, preparing pandemic response and surge, patient care and family involvement.
Zelmer said now is the opportunity to implement these policies.
“We know more now so there’s some other things we can put in place now based on that knowledge,” she said.
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“We owe it to everybody who has been affected…we owe it to them to learn those lessons and to really move forward based on what we now know.”