The staffing crisis in long-term care is being felt acutely at two Hamilton seniors’ homes that have been hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks.
Staff from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) have been deployed at Grace Villa, where an outbreak declared Nov. 25 has infected 217 people, including 140 residents and 77 staff members.
Twenty-eight residents at the east mountain facility have died.
On Dec. 16, the Ministry of Long-Term Care announced that it had approved a voluntary management contract allowing HHS to provide “enhanced support” at the home in order to stabilize the situation and return it to normal operations.
Sharon Pierson, executive vice-president of clinical operations and chief operating officer at HHS, said support includes infection prevention and control, COVID-19 testing among staff and residents, and assistance in accessing more environmental, housekeeping and nutrition resources.
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The management contract is set to last for 90 days, but Pierson said it’s too soon to know how long it will take to stabilize Grace Villa.
She said the biggest challenge will be getting the staffing situation under control, given the significant pressures across the long-term care sector.
“That would not make Grace Villa unique,” said Pierson. “That would be all of us trying to stabilize health human resources right now when there’s such demand during COVID.”
Shalom Village in the city’s west end is another seniors’ residence that has been ravaged by a coronavirus outbreak.
Since it was declared two weeks ago, Hamilton public health reports that 100 people have been infected with the virus, including 51 residents, 48 staff members and one case in what’s classified as “visitor/other.”
Six residents have died, according to the city’s records.
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Those numbers lag behind the figures reported by Shalom Village itself — according to an update posted to its website on Tuesday, 149 people have contracted the virus.
That number includes 64 staff members, nine residents in the apartments/assisted living area of the facility, 69 residents in long-term care, four residents in hospital and three essential caregivers.
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During a town hall video call on Monday, the home’s interim CEO said nine residents have died from COVID-19.
“We’re so sorry to have to say that,” said Larry Levin.
Up until the outbreak was declared on Dec. 9, Levin said Shalom Village had managed to keep COVID-19 from infecting the home.
“We went for nine months — almost nine months — without one resident testing positive, and there was testing going along all that time. And then all of a sudden within a week, look what’s happened. It’s just run through the house in many different areas.”
He attributed the virus’s ability to infiltrate the home to the rise in community spread in Hamilton.
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With so many staff members testing positive for COVID-19, Hamilton public health issued a Section 29.2 order on Dec. 14 allowing St. Joseph’s Healthcare to intervene and provide Shalom Village with the support needed to continue caring for residents and stabilize the situation inside the facility.
Levin described the role of St. Joe’s as “invaluable.”
“They’re providing nursing support and organizational support and moral support to help our staff and our administration to get through this.”
A spokesperson for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton confirmed that the hospital is working “closely” with Shalom Village in connection with the Section 29.2 order, and said media questions are being directed to the home itself at this point.
Laurie Pringle, director of communications and engagement at Shalom Village, said staffing levels at the home remain “adequate,” with assessments and adjustments being done on a daily basis.
“We are fortunate to be working with agencies which support our staffing, and with St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, which supports staffing as needed in addition to providing expertise on processes, education, and coaching on PPE (personal protective equipment) and infection prevention and control measures,” Pringle wrote in an email to Global News.
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Eighteen cases of COVID-19 among staff at Shalom Village have since resolved, but Levin said on Monday that not all of those staff members are choosing to come back to work right away.
“It’s an enormous stress on people to go through the experience of having a positive test and then working in a long-term care and apartment-type setting,” said Levin. “And some of those staff are choosing not to come back to Shalom — that they need more time off and they need a break. And I think we can all understand that.”
He said the home is using “external resources” to fill those positions, including nurses from St. Joe’s and “other agency staff,” until those employees feel they’re able to come back to work.
The facility will also be looking to increase the number of permanent nursing staff going forward.
“So we will end up with an even stronger team at the end of this than we had going into it.”
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