Nearly 80% of Winnipeg care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks

Winnipeg long-term care homes are back in familiar and troubling territory – dealing with active COVID-19 outbreaks, this time fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Actionmarguerite runs three different homes that have been dealing with outbreaks since Christmas Day.

“We’re doing our best to keep focused on what matters most and that really is the care of the people that we support and that get it,” CEO Micheline St-Hilaire told Global News. “That’s taking all of our efforts to make sure that we create the conditions for the residents to have the care that they need.”

At Actionmarguerite St. Boniface there are active outbreaks on all units and 74 residents have been infected along with 68 staff members.

“Our long-term care settings are not different than the rest of society,” she said. “More of the people we support are getting the virus, as well as more of our staff than what we had lived in wave two.”

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said as of Tuesday morning, 31 of 39 care homes within the city have declared outbreaks.

“WRHA Infection Prevention and Control coordinators are providing support to sites in outbreak, and a WRHA clinical lead continues to be available to all homes as needed to provide a review of risks within the facility and suggest mitigation measures,” the WRHA reported on its website.

So far, the WRHA said 19 people have died in connection to the outbreaks.

However, some experts have said that number could have been much higher had lessons not been learned from the province’s deadly second wave that ripped through many of these same homes.

“In the previous waves, we were all learning about COVID. It was a new virus. We didn’t know what to expect from it and even though we were monitoring our residents very closely, we weren’t completely aware of all of the symptoms to watch for,” Long Term & Continuing Care Association of Manitoba Executive Director Jan Legeros said.

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Legeros said residents are being more closely watched and they know more about potential symptoms that can lead to fatal outcomes.

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“Hydration is so very important to our residents and of course, when we are in outbreak and residents are confined to their rooms and we have a shortage of staff, that formula together is is very, very challenging because of course, many of our residents to require assistance for eating and drinking,” she said.

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Another improvement from last year is that nearly 93 per cent of care home residents within Winnipeg have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

“That’s what makes it a lot different than when we were faced with the wave two outbreaks where at Actionmarguerite the residents had only gotten one dose,” St-Hilaire said.

But what is proving to be a bigger issue during this fourth wave is staffing.

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The WRHA said its sent additional staff to five homes recently.

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“Staffing is a limited resource, particularly with current levels of COVID-19 in the community impacting health care workers,” the WRHA said via a web update. “We continue to monitor staffing closely.”

But Legeros said there simply aren’t enough hands to help as many homes were starting this wave with a shortage to begin with.

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“(We’ve looked) to our agency staff to try to beef up staffing shortages. We’ve looked to the provincial pool, but that has now been exhausted,” she said. “We are also looking to have fully vaccinated staff who had tested positive in the past returned to work after five days if their symptoms are mild enough to safely do so.”

St-Hilaire said at Actionmarguerite they are monitoring staffing issues sometimes ‘moment-by-moment’ and they are leaning on fully vaccinated designated family caregivers to help fill gaps.

“We know that the presence of families is essential and so we were able to really bring them back so that they can play their essential caregiver role and be at their loved one’s side and help them through the realities that we face when we are in outbreak,” St-Hilaire said.

Legeros said those caregivers have played a vital role amid the Omicron wave and it’s a move they weren’t able to use during previous waves when immunizations weren’t available. Instead, many are now coming in to help bathe and feed their loved ones and even helping do laundry.

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“We can give them training and education on infection prevention and control on how to safely provide food and drink to their loved one,” she said. “So many of them have stepped up and are helping us in a myriad of ways.”

Beyond easing staffing issues, having family members helping also stems some of the isolation so many residents of long-term care homes have previously had to endure through lockdowns and loss of visitation.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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