Most long-term care homes in Atlantic Canada kept COVID out. Here’s what worked.
For Lisa Smith the pandemic started off with a round of bad news. By early March, it was clear that staff at Glen Haven Manor, a 202-bed long-term care facility in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, could not take vacations. The risk of bringing the COVID-19 virus into Glen Haven was simply too great. “To be honest, I think we cancelled 26 trips,” Smith, CEO of Glen Haven Manor, told SaltWire in an interview.
The home imposed staff restrictions by March 12, earlier than most. The cancellations were out of pure necessity. Smith needed all hands on deck and could not lose frontline workers to vacations let alone the self-isolation that would follow. “We did not have the staff to allow them to take an extra two weeks off because, as (with) all long-term care facilities, or most across this great nation, we have a staffing crisis,” Smith said. Glen Haven was an early adopter of many of the COVID-19 infection control practices. A COVID-19 pandemic plan was developed by March 1. By March 24, staff had set up a “Rona wing,” a separated isolation room in case residents tested positive for the virus. Staff were banned from working in other long-term care facilities and outside visits were curtailed two weeks before provincial measures restricted visits in long-term care homes. Administrators worked out a deal with local hotels to allow staff with family who had recently returned from travel abroad to self-isolate at a discount price. Local grocery stores established private shopping hours specifically for long-term care staff. By early April, staff and residents at Glen Haven were cohorted, with each resident care area set up with their own separate entrances and change areas.
Protecting the vulnerable
So far, COVID-19 has been kept out of Glen Haven Manor. Smith wants to keep it that way. “If you sit in a chair like this, you take it very serious.” She explains her job in simple terms: “To protect the elderly and the most vulnerable.” But she credited the dedication of Glen Haven staff. They got “a couple of days off” over the summer but Smith said that’s not the break they deserved in the height of the pandemic. “They are getting tired but they still come to work every day. They still have smiles on their faces,” she said.
Many of the preventative measures adopted at Glen Haven became standard at homes in Nova Scotia and other Atlantic Provinces. With the exception of the devastating outbreak at Northwood in Halifax, these efforts appear to have kept COVID-19 in long-term care in a region with a high population of seniors.
For a different outcome, look to central Canada. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating in long-term care homes in Ontario, Quebec and elsewhere. The vast majority of COVID-19 deaths across Canada have occurred in long-term care.
In Atlantic Canada, only 26 of 766 long-term care facilities have had people test positive for the virus as of late January and only 64 have died. Fifty-three were at Northwood. Nova Scotia has had 57 deaths due to the virus in long-term care while New Brunswick, as of the last week in January had seven. The mid-January outbreak at the Shannex Parkland seniors complex in Saint John, New Brunswick claimed four lives. An additional two who tested positive for COVID-19 also died in late January.
But most long-term care facilities in the region, including all in Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I., have avoided outbreaks.