Iris Mullin, a resident at The Views at St. Joseph’s, is paid a visit by her niece Nancy Riva through a window at the long-term care facility. Photo supplied

SALUTE TO FRONTLINE WORKERS: Taking perfect care of the elderly

No outbreaks of COVID-19 in Vancouver Island care homes

The Comox Valley Record has produced a special supplement for its May 20, 2020 print publication, saluting our frontline workers. This is one of the feature articles.

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Unlike the Lower Mainland, there has not been a single outbreak of COVID-19 in a long-term care facility on Vancouver Island during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For our size, we’re doing extremely well,” said Mark Blandford, Island Health’s executive director of primary care and seniors health. “We’ve been vigilant, and we’ve been learning from our colleagues in other jurisdictions, preventing things sooner because of the fact we’re tracking other jurisdictions. We’ve taken a fairly systemic view of it.”

Daily meetings among medical health officers and others involved with a long-term care Emergency Operations Centre have been critical in the efforts to contain the virus and to help flatten the curve.

“Now we meet on the phone every second day with our affiliate operators, ensuring that we have consistency of approach,” Blandford said.

One of the affiliates is The Views at St. Joseph’s, where COVID-19 has resulted in many changes designed to keep staff and frail residents as safe as possible.

“Our incredible and dedicated employees, medical staff and volunteers have made it possible to implement these changes quickly,” said Jane Murphy, president and CEO of Providence Residential and Community Care Services Society. “Like others in the long-term care sector on Vancouver Island, we were proactive. We watched how the virus was transpiring globally, and then in B.C., and we put many measures in place before orders came out from the Provincial Health Officer and Island Health.”

The Views established a single entrance where staff sanitize their hands, have their temperature taken and answer health-related questions before a shift. Residents’ temperatures are taken twice a day. Staff also wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask, if providing direct care to residents.

The Views has also established a no-visitors policy, except for end-of-life visits. Another measure has limited staff to work only at The Views.

Glacier View Lodge has initiated a Pandemic Prevention Plan to keep residents and staff safe during this “very uncertain time,” executive director Wanda McMillan said. “We have followed the directives of the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Health. Senior leadership attends teleconference meetings with Island Health and the other contracted long-term care homes to ensure we are in possession of the most up-to-date information, troubleshooting and responding as needed to support our residents and staff.”

GVL has responded to the crisis by restricting visits, discontinuing programs, cancelling events, expanding dining areas, and taking daily temperatures, among other measures.

“The key things we’ve done to prevent an outbreak have been things like the visitor restriction, which is not pleasant. We started doing that in a soft way two weeks before the province mandated it,” Blandford said. “We established what we called ‘ambassadors’ at the front door at every facility, making sure people’s visit was truly essential. We stopped children coming into the facilities. These are difficult things to do, but children at the time were considered the super spreaders.”

Another major initiative was establishing ‘single site staffing’ at all Island facilities.

“The collaboration has been nothing short of incredible,” Blandford said. “That collaboration has enabled us to establish no movement of worker across long-term care sites, or severely restricted it.”

New provincial guidelines ensure no loss of wages, Blandford added.

He notes the mainland is complicated by two health authorities competing for the same services among workers.

“It’s no single thing, it’s a combination, and we’re not doing anything that other jurisdictions on the Lower Mainland, for instance, are not doing. It’s just that we were able to do them more comprehensively, earlier, because we were able to learn from those jurisdictions. They’re misfortune has been our good fortune.

“Our situation is different,” Blandford added. “We have a moat that protects us.”

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