Ottawa MPPs ask about empty beds at Perley-Rideau; home says COVID-19 reduced capacity

OTTAWA — Two Ottawa area MPPs say they want to know why people are waiting for long-term care beds in the city when one home has more than one hundred empty beds.

Liberal MPPs Stephen Blais (Orléans) and John Fraser (Ottawa South) sent a letter Monday to Merrilee Fullerton, the Minister of Long-term Care and Kanata MPP, describing long wait times for long-term care beds for two local patients and noted that the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre has 120 open beds.

“The Perley and Rideau Veteran’s Health Center posted on their website that as of November 23, 2020, 120 of the homes’ 450 long-term care beds are not occupied,” the co-signed letter reads. “The high vacancy rate is troubling given the number of people waiting for a long-term care bed in hospital and in the community.”

The Perley-Rideau says on its website that 330 of its 450 beds are currently occupied. There are 850 staff available and 123 are on leaves of absence.

Blais and Fraser said government rules are preventing the Perley-Rideau from fully utilizing its capacity.

“It is our understanding that the current rules around transferring patients from hospital and community admissions as well as a lack of coordination are preventing the PRVHC from fully utilizing its capacity,” the letter says.

Speaking in Question Period at the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday, Fraser, whose riding includes the Perley-Rideau, demanded to know how so many beds could be left empty.

“Can the minister explain to all of us here how that situation could actually occur, where 120 beds out of 450 single bedrooms—perfect for infection control—are empty and can the minister commit to fixing it today?” he said. 

Fullerton replied to say that the government is following health protocols outlined by the province’s top doctors.

“You need to understand the severity of what’s happened in our long-term care homes,” Fullerton said. “The reason these beds exist the way they do is because we are taking the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, because of the severity of outbreaks in homes across Ontario. We must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable populations in the long-term care homes and we are required to address the outbreaks.”

COVID-19 required numerous changes to operations, Perley-Rideau says

The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre says there are many factors at play that are limiting their capacity.

In an email to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Perley-Rideau said admissions were paused at times due to COVID-19 and the reality of the pandemic has required the 450-bed long-term care home to make several changes, leading to the loss of dozens of beds.

“Admissions were suspended during outbreaks. As a precautionary measure, more than 50 short-stay beds were also ordered closed by the province,” a statement said.

The health centre also transformed its 20-bed Sub-Acute Care for Frail Elderly Unit (SAFE Unit) into a temporary isolation unit, and another 20 beds were turned into a self-isolation unit for new admissions.

“All newly admitted residents must complete a 14-day self-isolation. This is challenging for anyone, but particularly for those with dementia who wander,” the Perley-Rideau said. “Often, one to one staffing is required 24 hours a day for the 14-day period. Securing additional staff to meet this requirement is challenging.”

“It is no secret that the pool of replacement workers is maxed out. But the numbers only tell part of the story. This pandemic requires an added level of care that is possible only through strict adherence to infection control protocols, partnership, staffing and funding,” the Perley-Rideau said.

The home is admitting a maximum of three new residents per day.

“Given current resources, the complexities of serving the needs of increasingly frail elderly residents and the threats posed by the COVID-19 virus, it is important they we admit new residents at a rate that is safe for everyone,” the statement said.

The Perley-Rideau says admissions are managed through the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and there are currently more than 1,000 people on the waitlist for the home, creating an approximately three- to five-year wait.

The Perley-Rideau has had COVID-19 outbreaks during the pandemic. According to its webpage, 26 residents and 59 staff members have tested positive for the virus and 13 residents have died.

The home is COVID-free, as of Nov. 30, with no active cases in either residents or staff. 

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