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Northern Health confident in long-term care home COVID-19 procedures

Northern Interior Medical Health Officer Dr. Rakel Kling outlines protections in care homes
A man looks out the window at the Camilla Care Community centre overlooking crosses marking the deaths of multiple people that occured during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. One by one, Ontario long-term care residents explained the emotional devastation caused by the lockdown to an independent inquiry earlier this week, and implored the powers that be to address isolation before the second wave of COVID-19 crashes down. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Across Canada and the world, COVID-19 is hitting some of the most vulnerable people hardest.

In B.C., 33 long-term or assisted living facilities had an outbreak of COVID-19, with one in the Northern Health region as of Nov. 10.

The Northern Interior Medical Health Officer, Dr. Rakel Kling, feels confident those scary sights won’t be replicated in northern B.C.

“Luckily or unluckily, preparedness for COVID-19 isn’t very different than our preparedness for flu or gastrointestinal outbreaks,” she said. “The people involved are the same, the steps that we take to respond to an outbreak is fairly similar. I’d say we’re quite prepared.”

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Kling said the biggest key to fighting a COVID-19 outbreak is preventing it in the first place, which Northern Health attempts to do by limiting visitors, enhanced cleaning and protective equipment for workers.

If an outbreak does occur, visitors will be barred, and activities would be limited inside the home.

“It’s really focused on containing the outbreak,” Kling said. “Things that we would do is try to make sure staff only work in specific areas of the facility, we would step up cleaning, we very thoroughly screen residents to see if they’re symptomatic and we swab them if there’s any chance they could be ill.”

Earlier this month, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie noted that isolation during an outbreak has also been damaging for seniors, and families are asking for restrictions to be relaxed to allow for longer and more frequent visits.

“While COVID-19 has tragically claimed the lives of 151 residents of long-term care and assisted living, more than 4,500 other residents have died from something other than COVID-19 during this pandemic and in many cases, they spent their final months, weeks and days in relative isolation, unable to spend time with those they loved most,” Mackenzie said in a news release accompanying the results of a survey.

The survey showed most visits to long-term care homes are only once per week, and half are 30 minutes or less. Nearly 80 per cent of visits are not in a resident’s room, with 65 per cent observed by staff.

The report makes three recommendations: “allow all residents to designate an essential care partner, allow social visitors and determine the number allowed by balancing the risk to a resident’s health from the long-term family separations, and create a provincial association of long-term care and assisted living resident and family councils.”

Any public exposures of COVID-19, including ones at long-term care facilities, are reported on Northern Health’s website.

The only active outbreak of COVID-19 in Northern Health is inside Rotary Manor at Dawson Creek.

A single case of the disease was detected in a staff member on Nov. 2, with the last potential exposure taking place on Oct. 25.

In addition to the usual measures, hours and staffing at the closest testing facility were expanded to keep up with the increased testing demand.

“I’m confident when these measures are used appropriately and followed — well we can’t prevent everything, but we can certainly limit and reduce the risk of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities,” Kling said.

Planning for COVID-19 in B.C.’s north is similar to the rest of the province, but comes with slightly different considerations.

“We’re not as dense as the Lower Mainland and other areas, but also knowing that access to health care in some of our rural and remote communities - it could take a while to drive to the nearest health care facility,” Kling said. “It requires a bit more planning with the logistical challenges of being in a rural and remote location.”

Kling added the public can help reduce the risk to vulnerable populations by not slacking off in their own lives, as the less the virus is circulating in the community, the lower the chances are it will enter a long-term care home.

“[I encourage] everyone to do their part in reducing physical interactions, not having any events and gatherings,” she said. “All of that is so important right now.”

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