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

Salmon Arm Council will be considering on March 10, 2021 approval of the placing of a notice warning of building bylaw infractions on a local property. (File photo)
City of Salmon Arm takes action on reported building bylaw infractions

If final approval given by council, notice will alert prospective buyers to outstanding issues

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, Tuesday, June, 12, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Okanagan-Shuswap real estate market continues hot start to 2021

Sales in February were up more than 100 per cent over last year, reports the Association of Interior Realtors

The owner of this property at 2240 Highway 97B SE would like to subdivide the property to create a residence for her son so they can keep the farm going for the next generation. (City of Salmon Arm image)
Salmon Arm farm owner requests subdivision of land for family member

Creating two lots would mean son could help keep the farm productive

The Salmon Arm Fire Department responds to a report of thick smoke coming the backyard of a residence off Fifth Avenuse SE on the morning of March 3. Fire chief Brad Shirley notes that burning yard waste on lots under .99 of an acre is not permitted. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm residents reminded not to be tempted to burn yard waste

Firefighters respond to a call in city March 3 involving wet leaves, yard waste best taken to dump

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

Most Read