COVID-19: More calls for additional health measures in Alberta’s continuing care homes

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: More calls for additional health measures in Alberta’s continuing care homes' COVID-19: More calls for additional health measures in Alberta’s continuing care homes
WATCH ABOVE: There are renewed calls for more support and public health measures for continuing care homes and assisted living facilities in Alberta. Christa Dao reports on the concerns as facilities across the province see a rise in COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths. – Nov 20, 2020

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated the cases at Carewest George Boyack were reported on the third and second floors. The cases were actually reported on the third and fourth floor. As of Nov. 20, there were only cases remaining on the third floor. Global News regrets this error.

As Alberta reports a rise in the number of COVID-19 outbreaks at continuing care facilities and assisted living homes, there are increasing calls for additional health measures to be implemented.

Since Oct. 26, Alberta has seen a stark rise in outbreaks at care facilities. About 70 per cent of all deaths from COVID-19 in the province have been linked to them.

At Carewest George Boyack in Calgary, the facility is grappling with its outbreak status. There are currently four active cases, and a total of 28 people (16 residents and 12 staff) have tested positive for COVID-19. The cases were reported on the third and four floors, according to Alberta Health Services, which owns Carewest. There are currently no active cases on the fourth floor, as of Friday.

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With five fatalities also reported, the outbreak and rise in deaths have Judith Harris concerned for her mother’s safety.

“I’m very concerned because my mother is in the George Boyack facility and the outbreak that is going on there now… I just feel like the whole system is placing all the risk for everything that goes on all these vulnerable people who are in nursing homes and… (they) have no control over what they’re exposed to,” she said.

Harris is calling for more frequent testing of residents at the facility. She also wants to see all new residents admitted to the facility be quarantined for two weeks, alone.

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She said the concern over new admissions stems from the fact that the initial case at George Boyack was a new admission.

Read more: ‘Our situation is grim’: Alberta breaks daily record for COVID-19 cases Friday, sees 11 new deaths

AHS said new admissions are placed in isolation from the time they are admitted.

“If they are in a shared room with a roommate, the roommate is also put on isolation,” read a statement from AHS. “Patient admissions are always managed in accordance with IPC standards for the rooming options available at time of admission.

“The individual was on isolation from the time they were admitted and tested positive after admission.”

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Read more: COVID-19: Concerns raised over eased restrictions at Alberta continuing care, seniors facilities

AHS said both staff and residents are tested regularly for COVID-19, adding both are screened regularly and are required to have their temperature checked.

Alberta Health said the province has two orders in place that apply to those living in continuing care facilities, and those measures are designed to minimize the risk of infection, including when new people move into a site.

CMOH Order 32-2020 was issued on Sept. 3 and provides a framework that looks at a risk-based approach for quarantine requirements instead of a blanket approach that requires everyone to quarantine.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 and senior care in Alberta' COVID-19 and senior care in Alberta
COVID-19 and senior care in Alberta – Nov 13, 2020

According to the order, a resident should be moved to a private space in the building where possible, but depending on the facility layout or circumstances, that possibility isn’t always the case.

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Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar also raised concerns about seniors in continuing care homes.

“Our continued care system has been in crisis for decades now, and COVID(-19) has just shone a light on the cracks that currently have existed in this area for so long,” she said.

Azocar said more staff are needed as the pandemic drags on.

“We have been calling for a staff-to-patient ratio for years now, and that is something that needs to be overseen,” she said. “We don’t have enough people to address some of the personal health needs of people, then they’re not getting the level of care that they require.

“We hear all the time from families about how their family member has called them saying that they’re hungry because they haven’t been fed yet. We know hospitals currently are overcapacity… We have people that are living in their homes that are not able to get the medical care that they need.

“So it’s a huge issue for the families that have loved ones there.”

Not everyone is against the eased quarantine rules, however. The Alberta Seniors Communities and Housing Association told Global News in September that the new order allows for flexibility for centres and provides a mental health benefit for seniors.

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“We still have the same screening,” executive director Irene Martin-Lindsay said on Sept. 3.

“We can allow more people in, based on volunteers, and hopefully some of the life enrichment and wellness supports that are so critical for well-being are what we should be able to implement.”

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