Stasia Huby (left) and her daughter Joanne Waddell. Huby lives in West Kelowna’s Heritage Retirement Residence, where a COVID-19 outbreak ended on Feb. 2. Photo: Submitted

Stasia Huby (left) and her daughter Joanne Waddell. Huby lives in West Kelowna’s Heritage Retirement Residence, where a COVID-19 outbreak ended on Feb. 2. Photo: Submitted

For B.C. seniors in care, it’s been nearly a year of isolation to combat COVID-19 outbreaks

COVID-19 isn’t ‘blowing in through the window,’ so how does B.C. put a stop to care home outbreaks?

For more than a month, Stasia Huby lived in the eye of a COVID-19 storm.

The virus was first detected at West Kelowna’s Heritage Retirement Residence on Dec. 22. By the time the outbreak was declared over by Interior Health on Feb. 2, four people were dead while 41 residents and five staff members had been infected.

Huby was one of the lucky residents to emerge from her suite healthy. She had been alone, a little scared, but also stoic.

“I’m a very strong type,” she said. “But if it happens, it happens. There’s not much you could do about it.”

During the Heritage outbreak, Huby’s daughter Joanne Waddell did her best to stay connected from her home in Ontario. Huby has no family in the city except for a son-in-law, and Waddell describes her mother as a person who enjoys being social.

Waddell last visited Huby for two weeks in August, but during the outbreak they were limited to video chats. Waddell praised Heritage’s staff for making sure Huby had what she needed and said the situation went as well as it could for her family.

But the two months Huby spent locked in her suite is an irreplaceable loss of time for her 87-year-old.

“When they’re into their 80s, even 70s, the clock is ticking,” said Waddell. “And for this to happen to them at this stage in their lives, it’s just like what a waste to be quarantined and stuck in a room, and not be able to go out and do things because (you’re) at the last stage of your life.”

Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna is one of the care homes in B.C. that has had a COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Photo: Philip McLachlan

Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna is one of the care homes in B.C. that has had a COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Photo: Philip McLachlan

The majority of COVID-19 deaths in B.C. have occurred in care facilities such as Heritage Retirement Residence.

There have been 222 outbreaks in long-term care, assisted living and independent living homes across B.C. since the pandemic first was declared March 5, 2020, at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Including acute care, that total rises to 273 outbreaks as of Jan. 30.

Of the 3,103 residents who have tested positive, 872 have died as of Jan. 30. There have been no deaths among the 2,088 staff who have tested positive.

But despite health minister Adrian Dix’s announcement on Jan. 29 that 26,584 residents had been vaccinated, with the first dose of vaccines having been made available to every long-term care home in B.C., there were still 23 active outbreaks as of Feb. 2.

Dr. Albert de Villiers, chief medical officer for Interior Health, said it’s no secret how the virus is getting into long-term care facilities.

There’s a clear correlation between a rise of cases in a community and outbreaks at its long-term care homes.

“We know with these types of viruses … the only way for it [to come in] is through people. It’s not going to blow in through the windows.”

That means family visiting loved ones, and the staff who residents rely on to care for them.

De Villiers said staff are doing their best to adhere to health protocols, but mistakes happen – forgetting to wash hands for example – and the pandemic nearing its first anniversary has led to fatigue among caregivers.

De Villiers said Interior Health has tried to account for this by being mindful of staff mental health and taking people off shift when needed. Staff are screened with health questions, but regular testing isn’t practical.

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is the most accurate available, but a result currently takes around 20 hours to complete. Rapid tests (the pan bio antigen test and a separate molecular test) are less accurate, but only take 15 to 20 minutes each.

But De Villiers said it’s still a drain on resources as staff have to take time off to take a sample and get it analyzed.

B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie believes more regular testing of staff should have been introduced in October when the province announced a second wave of infections had begun.

Rapid testing, or perhaps a twice-weekly PCR test, wouldn’t necessarily show if a staff member was patient zero of an outbreak, but Mackenzie said it would prevent further infections among staff and residents.

“The minute your test result comes back positive, we’re able to pull you off shift,” she said.

Cottonwoods Care Centre residents in Kelowna celebrate receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations. Photo: Interior Health

Cottonwoods Care Centre residents in Kelowna celebrate receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations. Photo: Interior Health

Mackenzie is also critical of personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution in B.C.

Before the pandemic, she said privately managed care homes were responsible for their own PPE supply of items such as gloves and masks. But when initial demand for PPE skyrocketed, it exposed smaller care homes with less purchasing power. A centralized, permanent provincial supply chain would solve that issue, she maintains.

Mackenzie said it’s important to remember long-term care facilities are not the same as acute care. The former are homes, where residents and staff form relationships.

So how can residents safely interact with their loved ones in a place that ideally is not much different than a private home? It’s a question to which De Villiers believes public health care must provide a new answer.

“We know if you leave people in long-term care and there’s no family connection and no social connection, that’s not good for their health either,” he said.

De Villiers and Mackenzie also want to see shifts in how seniors’ health care, for residents and staff, are considered after the pandemic. Mackenzie says staff health needs to become a bigger priority with a workplace culture that encourages sick leave.

De Villiers expects public health to double down on messaging that discourages people from being social while sick.

Huby will see that future. She had her first vaccine shot on Jan. 16, and celebrated her birthday on Feb. 10. Heritage Retirement Residence will remain her home.

“I couldn’t choose any better.”

READ MORE:

Vaccines coming, B.C. seniors need to be ready, Horgan says

Have a heart: Nelson woman reaches out to isolated seniors

B.C. to do clinical trial of COVID-19 drug on emergency basis to treat severe cases

Opposition calls for better family access to B.C. care homes

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHealthcareSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alycia Weir (left) and Helena Oosthoek (right) of the Golden Family Center stand outside of the GFC building at their Bell Lets Talk stand last February. They are currently raising funds to help support their drop-in counselling program. (Claire Palmer photo)
Family center fundrasing for free counselling program

It’s important to have accesible care in the community

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Ryan Bavin of Bavin Glassworks in Invermere. Photo: Submitted
Call for entries for Columbia Basin Culture Tour

Deadline for registration for artists and venues is April 15

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
36 new cases of COVID-19, one death in Interior Health

The number of active cases in the region is at 366

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Isaac Gilbert is running for council in the by-election for Jake Kimberley’s vacated seat. (Submitted)
First candidate for Penticton council by-election makes himself known

Isaac Gilbert is making a second run at council after receiving 19.63 per cent of the vote in 2018

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Most Read