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‘I can’t trust the system’: Grieving Little Mountain Place families demand accountability

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Family members grieving the loss of loved ones at Little Mountain Place are demanding answers as to how and why a single staff case of COVID-19 quickly escalated into a lethal outbreak at the Vancouver seniors' care home. John Hua reports – Jan 15, 2021

Two women who lost loved ones in a care home at the centre of the province’s deadliest outbreak are demanding answers about what went wrong.

Bernadette Cheung and Parbs Bains lost their grandmothers to COVID-19 on the same day at Little Mountain Place.

Cheung and Bains say they’re frustrated by what they call a lack of urgency and transparency from Vancouver Coastal Health, after an outbreak that started with one staff member in November grew rapidly, eventually infecting 99 residents at the 117-bed home, 41 of whom died.

Read more: B.C. family demands better oversight of care homes after COVID-19 outbreak kills 41 residents

“I was terrified this was going to be a death sentence when we put her into the care home. And it was,” Bains told Global News.

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The first case at the care home was detected on Nov. 20, but family members were told there was “minimal exposure risk.”

Click to play video: 'Questions arise about releasing data for B.C. long-term care facility Little Mountain Place' Questions arise about releasing data for B.C. long-term care facility Little Mountain Place
Questions arise about releasing data for B.C. long-term care facility Little Mountain Place – Jan 4, 2021

It was two and a half weeks before family members got another update, in a hastily organized Zoom call. On Dec. 7, they learned the outbreak had surged to 59 cases and claimed five lives.

“How do you get from one infection to 59 in a span of two weeks and not give us any updates in between?” Cheung said.

Read more: ‘Incredibly lethal’ outbreak at Vancouver long-term care home raises questions of transparency

“People were asking, ‘How did this happen?’ and then all we got was the reiteration of ‘protocols in place, VCH on site.'”

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Bains told Global News that despite assurances that strict distancing protocols were in place, she watched in horror on the Zoom call as another resident wandered up to and hugged and kissed her grandmother.

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Both women say they were frustrated by the lack of answers from health officials about how the virus was spreading and the apparent secrecy about what was going on.

In the end, family members went to the media to get the story out.

“If families had not talked to the media and pushed hard for this to come out, this would have been swept under the rug,” Cheung said.

“Nobody would have known there was this catastrophe at Little Mountain Place, and nobody would have done anything about it, and all of these deaths would have been hidden and tucked away in the overall COVID update numbers.”

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What is the B.C. government doing to help long-term care fight the second wave of COVID-19? – Jan 14, 2021

Vancouver Coastal Health says that it has poured enormous resources into long-term care homes, including to communicate with families about outbreaks.

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“We’re not trying to hide things from the public, our priority is communication with family members,” chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly told Global News in an interview Monday.

But she said health officials remain reticent to provide daily case number updates, for fear of alarming families.

“We did find that early on, when the province was releasing information on a daily basis, number of cases, number of deaths, that caused a lot of anxiety among some family members,” she said.

Bains and Cheung support an upcoming review by B.C. Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie into how long-term care homes have handled the pandemic.

Read more: More than a third of residents at Vancouver long-term care home have died from COVID-19

The review will pay particular attention to the facilities like Little Mountain Place, the Lynn Valley Care Centre and Langley Lodge, which saw particularly deadly outbreaks.

“We are going to zero in on those homes within the review to try and look very deeply at not just the practices and responses and response times,” Mackenzie said.

“Why were some care homes able to contain the outbreak, and others weren’t?”

The results of that review will come too late for families that lost loved ones at Little Mountain, but Bains said she hopes they can provide answers and prevent future tragedies.

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“I just don’t want others to have to go through this again,” she said.

“I can’t trust the system the way that it’s being run right now.”

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