As the number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities rises in long-term care facilities across Canada, new images reviewed by Global News have revealed some risky practices by staff that may be contributing to the disease’s exponential growth.
The images show that several support workers at an Ontario long-term care facility have not been properly using protective equipment such as masks, gloves and medical gowns, by wearing them outside the building. This type of equipment is meant to be discarded in rooms following each interaction with patients in order to prevent viruses and bacteria from spreading.
Collected at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont. — where almost half of the facility’s 65 residents have died a few weeks after its COVID-19 outbreak started — the images may reflect a larger pattern plaguing hundreds of long-term care facilities across the country.
In Quebec, about 25 per cent of the province’s 2,200 long-term care homes have already detected at least one case of the disease, with some homes now seeing over half of their patients infected by COVID-19.
And almost half of over 200 Quebecers who died in recent weeks after contracting COVID-19 were residents of the long-term care homes.
During a news conference on Thursday, Ontario’s chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said the administration of individual facilities was ultimately responsible for ensuring staff were properly trained.
“That’s part of the challenge of each organization,” Williams said. “It may seem, on paper, easy. But when you start to do it, you have to practise and do it. And so ongoing education and training is critical for all levels and so I would be as supportive of ongoing training and education of PSWs (personal support workers), such that they would totally be informed and aware of what they might and should do in every situation.”
Officials at Pinecrest didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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But similar stories of the virus spreading in seniors’ residences have played out across the country. This indicates that some personal support workers haven’t been taught about safe hygiene practices, according to Anna Banerji, a Toronto physician and an expert on the spread of infectious diseases.
“That’s how these infections spread,” she told Global News in an interview.
“Maybe we need some intervention in these seniors’ residences for infections control people to go in and have strict measures and strict education so that people know that — even if you have gloves on — you can’t use those same gloves and go out, have a smoke, come back, touch something else. That’s not how it works, because all you’re doing is spreading it.”
Banerji’s warnings are consistent with a new survey of some 2,000 personal support workers in long-term care homes, conducted by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The survey found that 95 per cent of the respondents said they had no access to training about how to deal with or interact with patients with COVID-19.
Long-term care homes are also particularly vulnerable to outbreaks since they don’t have enough private rooms to quarantine someone who is sick, and often have shared rooms.
In addition, Ontario public health officials had previously asked long-term care homes to accept the transfer of hospital patients, without requiring that any of these patients be tested for COVID-19 before they were moved — a practice that provincial officials reversed on Thursday.
Ontario has also been allowing staff to rotate between different facilities, instead of placing restrictions that prevent them from circulating.
Williams, the province’s chief medical officer, said he is recommending that staff don’t work in multiple facilities, but said additional discussions are needed with other stakeholders, including provincial labour officials, in order to make it mandatory for workers to be restricted to a single facility.
He said he had just spoken to his provincial and territorial counterparts who are also trying to figure out how to restrict traffic between different facilities.
“Each province and territory is struggling with the same issue in a way that protects those at risk but respects the rights of the individual working in those settings as our democratic process allows,” said Williams. “So we’re trying to understand that and help us to work out a solution that is amenable to all and for the protection of those most vulnerable.”
Many workers have also expressed concerns about a shortage of personal protective equipment, which is leading some to re-use equipment that may be spreading the virus.
“It is absolutely a perfect storm, headed directly for disaster,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer.
– with files from Jigar Patel
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