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

Just Posted

Brenda and Steve Smith with a photo of Derek Descoteau. It’s been five years since Derek was murdered in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Friends provide continuing comfort for family in wake of unresolved Chemainus murder

Case remains before the courts five years after Derek Descoteau’s abrupt stabbing death in Chemainus

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Shawnigan RCMP wrap up investigation into ‘suspicious occurrence’

Police and complainant satisfied with explanation

More “strings of lights” were seen on May 15, 2021, in night sky over Vancouver Island. (File photo)
COVID-19 virus (file photo).
Possible COVID-19 exposure reported at Mill Bay Thrifty Foods

Employee tested positive, last worked on May 8

The former St. Joseph’s School converted to the St. Joseph’s Art Studios in 2019. (File photo by Don Bodger)
Former Chemainus St. Joseph’s School site sold to addictions recovery group

Diocese stresses the importance of a community outreach option in its decision

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Over the years, police have worked with sketch artists to draw what the boys could have looked like at the times of their deaths. (Vancouver Police Department)
DNA breakthrough expected in cold case involving murdered Vancouver boys, 7 and 8

Forensic analysts are working to identify relatives of the children, whose bodies were found in Stanley Park in 1953

Livestock competitions have been part of the Pacific National Exhibiton for more than a century. (Maple Ridge News files)
B.C. provides $50 million to keep major tourist attractions going

Tour bus companies also eligible for latest COVID-19 aid

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

The new wing at the Victoria International Airport opened up on Thursday (File contributed/YYJ)
Pandemic takes ‘hundreds of millions’ out of Victoria Airport, Vancouver Island economy

Airport authority head says passenger volumes down as much as 98 per cent

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Reigning women’s World Champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who also took bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, will debut two brand new programs for the 2021 Stars On Ice tour, in Victoria May 15. (File photo)
Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko hit the ice when Stars On Ice returns to Vancouver Island

The star-studded lineup is makes a return after pandemic hiatus

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen, with the 100 Mile House RCMP. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)
14-year-old boy killed in serious ATV crash near 100 Mile House

Youth was travelling with a group of peers when the incident occurred last Friday

Most Read