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COVID-19 a 'frightening' spectre at Sudbury long-term care homes

Canadian nursing homes have seen several deadly COVID-19 outbreaks
Finlandia's Hoivakoti long-term care home is seen here in this file photo. (File)

COVID-19 has been deadly in Canadian nursing homes, and as the administrator of one of the largest long-term care homes in Ontario, Aaron Archibald said the situation has caused him some sleepless nights.

“This has been the most daunting challenge that I have faced in my two-and-a-half years here,” said the administrator of Pioneer Manor, a 433-bed City of Greater Sudbury-run facility.

“I have absolutely lost sleep over this. To be totally truthful, this absolutely scares me.”
Although Archibald said there is no COVID-19 in Pioneer Manor, it's not hard to see why the situation is daunting.

An outbreak at the 65-bed Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., has now claimed the lives of 28 people, including 27 residents and one spouse of a resident. 

Six residents of the Hillsdale Terraces Long-Term Care Home in Oshawa have died of COVID-19. Another major outbreak at the Sainte-Dorothée long-term care centre in Laval, Que. has killed eight.

Further away, in North Vancouver's Lynn Valley Care Centre, 17 residents who contracted the virus have died, and there have been 11 deaths at Calgary's McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre.

Archibald said about 70 per cent of Pioneer Manor's residents have dementia, so don't have the ability to keep track of world events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the high death toll at long-term care homes.

“Having said that though, we also care for a lot of people who don't have dementia, and cognitively, they're sharp as they ever were,” he said.

“They're watching TV and news just like I am. Those residents that are engaged, and are paying attention to world events, yeah, they're concerned.”

The situation is “frightening,” said Kari Gervais, vice-president of clinical services with St. Joseph's Health Centre, in an interview with in late March.

Her organization runs two local nursing homes — St. Joseph's Villa and St. Gabriel Villa — as well as the rehab facility St. Joseph's Complex Continuing Care.

“It is scary,” Gervais said. “We do know we are taking care of the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to COVID. It's a constant reminder that we need to be diligent, we need to be persistent, and make sure we're doing everything we can.”

Keeping COVID-19 out

David Munch, CEO of Finlandia Village, said the spectre of COVID-19 has residents, families and staff scared.

But he said his staff are doing their best to ensure COVID-19 doesn't come to the Minnow Lake area seniors' complex.

Finlandia Village includes a 110-bed long-term care home, as well as assisted living apartments and townhouses that house another 300 people.

“Once it does come in, it's very difficult to stop the spread of it,” Munch said.

“I think our hearts go out to anybody having to deal with this. From families to residents to front-line health care workers, there's a lot of individuals scared.

“What I am seeing from the directives we're receiving from the Ministry of Health, and from the provincial government, they're trying to stay ahead of this issue and support long-term care homes and front-line workers as much as possible.”

Long-term care staff

Finlandia has asked all of its staff whether they're still comfortable coming into work, especially if they have medical conditions.

“Some staff, because of certain health conditions or family with health conditions, they've chosen not to come into work anymore with regards to what might or might not happen with COVID-19 spreading,” Munch said.

“We're very confident that the workers we do have here. There are a lot of committed workers that want to continue working, and want to continue to support residents if we do get an outbreak.”

Archibald said he's been “blown away” by the resolve of Pioneer Manor's front-line staff amid COVID-19 concerns.

“I'm very fortunate to be part of an absolutely fantastic team here,” he said. “I'm in awe of how our staff have rallied and continue to rally to provide absolutely high-quality care to our residents.”


Ontario nursing homes are in a lockdown due to COVID-19, meaning no visitors except in the case of end-of-life residents.

Local long-term care homes have also enacted physical distancing measures including cancelling group activities and seating residents further apart at mealtimes.

The current situation is hard on residents' mental health, Munch said, but families have been using using online tools such as FaceTime, Skype or Zoom to stay in touch. 

St. Joseph's Health Centre and Pioneer Manor report they are are making similar use of tech.

“We're seeing a lot more of the residents of the village embrace that kind of technology,” Munch said.

As for Finlandia's apartments and townhouses, some visitors are still allowed in the complex to deliver essential items, although families are asked to drop items off in the lobby wherever possible.

Anyone entering long-term care homes — including employees, residents or service providers — are screened for symptoms of COVID-19.

“We're also taking temperatures twice a day on all of our staff members,” Archibald said of measures at Pioneer Manor. “So in order to get into the building, you can't have a fever.”

He said Pioneer Manor has so far tested 29 residents for COVID-19 that had been showing cold symptoms. To date, there have been 22 negative tests out of the care facility, and zero positive tests.

Deep cleaning

With the threat of COVID-19 long-term care homes are been stepping up cleaning. 

“For about a month now, we've had additional people on staff that are doing nothing but cleaning and disinfecting of high-contact, high-touch points,” said Archibald of measures at Pioneer Manor.

“We are doing that 24/7 throughout the entire home.”


Canada's supply of medical personal protective equipment (PPE) has been big news lately, with strains due to a combination of delays in global shipments, domestic manufacturing lag time and U.S. restrictions.

Archibald said Pioneer Manor had built up a pandemic supply of PPE about a year and a half ago as part of its planning process.

“We currently have a supply of personal protective equipment for our staff and have been receiving shipments of personal protective equipment over the last week or so,” Archibald told city council Tuesday night.

“We do have stock in house for the next two to three weeks."

Munch said Finlandia still has a supply of PPE, and the seniors' care complex is reporting daily to the provincial government daily as to its inventory.

“It all depends on how many residents or staff get COVID-19, if they even do get it,” he said.

“If it's only a handful of people that get it, obviously we don't have any issue, but as we've seen in some of the other homes, if it does spread like it has been in a lot of other countries and long-term care homes, then it could become a challenge for us, which is why we're reporting on a daily basis to the government.”

St. Joseph's Health Centre is asking for donations of PPE for its care facilities to augment what it calls its “dwindling supply.”

The facilities do have a “pandemic” stock of PPE such as masks and gloves on top of its regular operating stock.

This is to “provide a buffer in the event that we do find ourselves in a pandemic,” said Gervais.

“Due to some of the back orders we've been seeing from our suppliers, we have now found ourselves having to dip into that pandemic supply, and have been unable to replenish at the rate that we're using them,” she said.

“So although we're still pretty comfortable right now, the supply is dwindling. We are asking the public for any assistance they can provide.”

Any business or individual who wishes to donate PPE to St. Joseph's Health Centre facilities are asked to contact Tanya Gil-Alfau at 705-674-2846 ext. 2104 to make arrangements for drop off.

Heidi Ulrichsen

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