Outbreaks, staff shortages reappear in the Stratford area’s long-term care home

Outbreaks, staff shortages reappear in the Stratford area’s long-term care home

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Staff absenteeism approaching 20 to 30 percent in some of Ontario’s long-term care homes is not reported in Huron-Perth, but local workers in that sector are again under pressure as the Omicron variant reintroduces the threat of widespread COVID-19 outbreaks.

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Peter Bolland, the administrator at Spruce Lodge, a municipally owned non-profit long-term care home in Stratford, said Friday that increasing societal proliferation at this stage of the pandemic makes positive cases seem “a bit inevitable” after vaccines gave a prolonged delay from the dangerous outbreaks seen former.

Although Spruce Lodge was not one of the local long-term care homes facing an outbreak on Monday, more than six employees recently missed work because they tested positive or were identified as a high-risk contact, Bolland said.

“We do everything to catch things before they spread. Suffice it to say that staff is a significant challenge. This is wave five. It’s been a long journey and it feels like we’re on a steep “I’m not sure the sector can keep up the pace for too long.”

Steven Harrison, CEO of Tri-County Mennonite Homes, the organization that oversees Greenwood Court in Stratford and the Nithview Community in New Hamburg, said some personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, remains difficult and expensive to obtain, so long-term care staff adapts to new test, isolation and safe return measures for employees.

“Staff shortages have been a reality for years before the arrival of the pandemic, and this has simply exacerbated an already overwhelmed and underserved sector,” he said. “The province is trying, but the availability of supplies does not even meet their expectations of use, and this will only worsen with return to school and further needs … from the education sector.”

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Outbreaks of long-term care are declared when two or more cases are connected, meaning that an infection is likely to have occurred in the home. They have been rising in Huron-Perth recently – eight long-term care and nursing homes in the region experienced outbreaks on Friday – and a similar trend is developing across the province. Out of the 626 long-term care homes in Ontario, 208 outbreaks occurred Sunday, 22 more than the week before.

Long-term care minister Rod Phillips spoke of the rising numbers during a news conference Thursday.

“Staffing in long-term care remains an issue, it’s a focus area, and it’s an area that we are in daily contact with individual homes (roughly),” he said.

But the province has been criticized for not making it clear how many extra staff were deployed to help hard-hit homes, or where absenteeism caused the most acute problems.

“Because Ontario failed to plan, more than 1,000 nursing home staff are on sick leave right now, causing nursing homes to desperately recruit from fast-food chains,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of the SEIU Healthcare union.

Among the homes seeking help outside the healthcare sector is Caressant Care’s location in Listowel, where a more traditional winter virus – the rhinovirus – has recently caused staff absenteeism. Stuart Oakley, Caressant Care’s communications and marketing manager, said kitchen staff have been among the most affected in Listowel and that the company is open to bringing in hospitality sector workers affected by the recent provincial closure.

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“We’re trying to look a little outside the box in terms of where we can find some staff to support,” he said. “Students if (they are) fully vaccinated, especially those who pursue health care in some form or form, are certainly welcome.”

Delayed PCR test results and the closure of the province’s schools, forcing some workers to stay home with their children, have also affected staff levels, Oakley added. In addition, hospital workers who also work in long-term care must not enter homes experiencing an outbreak.

Typically, homes in need of staff will offer workers overtime pay or turn to a staffing agency for help, but the burnout is high, Bolland said.

“We have been recruiting over the last year at a fairly stable level, but having said that, the need is in a way beyond what we are able to provide at the moment. It is difficult to keep up.”

Pandemic salaries for nurses, housekeepers and dieticians who were not included when the province made funds available to increase the salaries of personal support workers would be useful, Bolland added.

“It will not necessarily prevent people from getting sick, but being recognized and valued goes a long way towards retaining them and making them go the extra mile in times like this.”

cmontanini@postmedia.com

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