Serving Residential and Community Care Homes for Everyone in Manitoba

Province needs to step up for those at most risk for COVID-19, 24 sep 2020 September 24th, 2020

As the pandemic pushes ahead to new notorious highs in Winnipeg, we cannot afford to lose sight of those who may be most adversely impacted.

Manitoba benefitted early in the pandemic by measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 into personal care homes and long term care facilities and a high degree of luck. That luck has shifted.

Every day there are seemingly new cases in PCHs and LTCHs in Manitoba, and the death count is starting to add up with three deaths this week and eight in old age homes overall. This includes a woman in her 90s who passed away at Parkview Place, a long-term care facility in downtown Winnipeg, and announced on Wednesday.

More needs to be done to protect this vulnerable population.

“We’re seeing the death toll climb and it is deeply concerning and deeply distressing that we don’t have a way of ensuring that we can keep COVID not only out of personal care homes but that we can keep it at bay if it does come into a personal care home,” said Jan Legeros, executive director for the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba. “We don’t have the ability to isolate because of the infrastructure.”

This is not just a Manitoba thing.

The Globe and Mail on Monday reported on a letter from Ontario’s long term care homes insisting that despite all of the deaths they had in their facilities early in the pandemic, they are not prepared for an expected second wave.

In Manitoba, the issue remains 60% of accommodations are shared rooms and shared bathrooms. Not every room or bathroom is shared but these situations open up easier pathways for the virus to spread. There is not an easy or cheap solution to this, though this is not a new situation either.

Complexity is also not a reason for the government to say the status quo is OK.

An easier solution is to increase the operational funding from the government, which has not happened in the last 15 years and has actually dropped in the last two years. They have received a 0.25% hair cut in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets, which has impacted their buying power and also does not take into consideration inflation. For the 39 PCHs in Winnipeg, this equates to a $2M reduction in their bottom line.

“How do you pay your increases in your Hydro bill, increases in your supplies like incontinent supplies, or your increases for food?” said Legeros. “None of that has been funded for 15 years. It’s absolutely astounding.”

PCHs and LTCH have managed to maintain the legislated care guidelines of 3.6 hours per resident per day, but in recent years they also were forced to cut Allied health care resources which eliminated things like physio and other resources that improved quality of life.

More operational funding during the pandemic would critically allow them to hire more staff for cleaning and monitoring residents to ensure they are where they should be to limit the potential for spread.

Bethesda Place in Steinbach is an example of a PCH that has single occupancy rooms and bathrooms that still had an outbreak.

“It can occur even in the best of accommodations,” said Legeros. “We need to do significant research into COVID and how do we use the information that we learned through this pandemic to prevent or lessen its impact in the future.”

To be fair, the government has taken some steps to help mitigate spread in facilities like limiting nurses to one facility each, supplying them with PPE early in the pandemic and funding visitation structures to limit people coming into the facilities.

With each rising case, however, it becomes clear more needs to be done to protect the people who built this province from COVID-19 and future health crises.