Two deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care homes this week highlight the need to keep vulnerable members of the population safe from the novel coronavirus.
On March 23, a woman in her 90s passed away from the virus at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa. She was a resident of Hillside Terraces, an LTC home in Oshawa. Then, this morning (March 24), an 80-year-old woman died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton. She had been in isolation since March 16. She was a resident of Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek.
Ontario has announced that it is increasing the number of long-term care beds, giving facilities more authority in staffing, and restricting resident outings to further protect residents, staff and mandatory visitors of long-term care homes, from COVID-19.
On Monday, the provincial government enacted a new order under the declaration of emergency, giving long-term care homes the ability to free-up valuable staff and identify staffing priorities, in addition to developing, modifying and implementing redeployment plans. The purpose being to ensure enough staff, nurses and personal support workers are available to prevent, respond and alleviate an outbreak of COVID-19.
The province said this personnel will be critical to ensure residents and their families get the support they need and fully understand the policies put in place in response to the virus.
Under this temporary order, long-term care homes will have the authority to:
- Redeploy staff with different locations in (or between) facilities of the health service provider
- Change the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work
- Change the scheduling of work or shift assignments
- Defer or cancel vacations, absences or other leaves, regardless of whether such vacations, absences or leaves are established by statute, regulation, agreement or otherwise
- Employ extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, including performing bargaining unit work
- Use volunteers to perform work, including bargaining unit work
- Provide appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan
In addition to protocols in place to guarantee a safe and secure environment for residents, Ontario has said that all new personnel will be screened to ensure they are qualified and present no risk to the public.
To further protect the residents, staff and visitors of these facilities, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has issued a new directive under the Long-Term Care Homes Act (2007) restricting resident’s movement from the property.
Until further notice, residents are prohibited from leaving the home for short visits with family and friends, as they were previously allowed. Those who wish to go outside will be permitted to visit their family and friends at a safe social distance, so long as the meeting takes place on the facilities’ grounds.
Ontario is also increasing the availability of long-term care beds so that facilities can isolate patients when necessary and approve more individuals on the long-term care waitlist. More acute hospital care beds will also be made available with this directive, as patients no longer requiring hospital care are transitioned into long-term facilities.
Long-term care homes will continue to restrict non-essential visits and actively screen essential visitors, staff, volunteers and residents, moving in or returning to the facility, until further notice.
Any resident who undergoes standard respiratory testing during this time will be automatically tested for COVID-19.
“The health and well-being of all Ontarians, including long-term care residents, their families, and staff will continue to be our government’s number one priority,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care in the release.
“Our government is taking all the necessary precautions to ensure our loved ones in Ontario’s long-term care homes are safe and secure.”