More staff, expanded sick leave recommended in report on long-term care home COVID-19 outbreaks

More staff, expanded sick leave recommended in report on long-term care home COVID-19 outbreaks
File photo.

At more than 800 deaths in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the death toll among residents in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities in B.C. is grim.

In a report, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie is diving into what went wrong in the first two waves of the pandemic.

“This review focused on the more narrow question of outbreaks, and how can we control them,” wrote Mackenzie.

The report looked at 487 facilities of long-term care and assisted living that are covered under B.C.’s Public Health Orders for the duration of the pandemic.

Mackenzie found 76 per cent of first cases that led to an outbreak in a long-term care facility originated from a staff member.

Only one case originated from a visitor from March 2020 to March 2021.

The report also found that residents are three and a half times more likely to contract COVID-19 and 33 times more likely to die of the disease.

Mackenzie’s recommendations to deal with the outbreaks include expanding sick leave for all facilities to 18 sick days a year, as many staff — around 40 per cent — came in to work sick.

She’s calling to increase the number of staff and registered nurses at those facilities and decrease the number of nurses on contract.

Most facilities have eliminated shared rooms, and the government’s policy on mandatory vaccinations for staff goes into effect Oct. 12.

The BC Care Providers Association represents private facilities caring for 12,000 seniors in residential care. CEO Terry Lake said he agrees with the findings of the report.

“Not surprised by many of the findings. They are similar to what we had in our report after the first wave, especially around testing,” he said.

Lake said funding is critical.

“I think we’ll have to see that in B.C. to meet the challenge for staff who are ready and available and willing to work in long-term care.”

Ninety-year old Marguerite Bell, who lives in Nanaimo’s Eden Gardens, celebrated her 90th birthday recently with her daughter, Jeanette Harper.

Harper is happy with the idea of more nurses at her mother’s facility.

“I would love to see more nursing staff. More hours, more care aide hours per resident. But as far as the nursing staff goes, in my mother’s care home, there is only one registered nurse on.”

As far as the recommendations from the seniors’ advocate, they are not binding on the provincial government.

The review examined 365 outbreaks at 210 facilities, where there were 4,484 COVID-19 cases and 782 deaths.

WATCH: Families want greater access to loved ones in long-term care facilities

With files from The Canadian Press

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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