Give rapid tests to care home staff during COVID-19 outbreaks, Manitoba family says

Care homes need to take more precautions to protect residents from COVID-19, according to family members of those who have died in Manitoba’s worst active outbreak.

Loretta Hopkins’ 87-year-old mother Virginia Ewasko is one of two residents at Third Crossing Manor in Gladstone, Man., who have died since an outbreak was declared on Nov. 8.

She doesn’t know how the virus got into the facility, but says she was told her mother got it from one of the staff. 

She wants to know why the care home didn’t require testing for staff once the outbreak was declared.

“If there was COVID in that facility, in my opinion … each one that came in should have been at least rapid-tested before they started their shift,” she said.

Third Crossing Manor has had a total of 68 cases, 40 of which are still active.

It’s one of three active care home outbreaks in Manitoba. On Thursday, the province also announced six deaths linked to an outbreak at a care home in Benito, Man. Another outbreak has been declared at Arborg Personal Care Home, where seven residents have tested positive.

Hopkins’ mother died on Nov. 12, less than 48 hours after being diagnosed with the disease. Hopkins says those two days were awful.

“We should not have had to be calling for nurses to come and give her medication,” she said.

“Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing nurses and amazing health-care workers there as well. It was just the situation that made those two days a living nightmare.”

Ewasko was not vaccinated against COVID-19, Hopkins said, because she worried about how it might affect her other health conditions. 

“She chose what she thought was right for her and also kind of somewhat believed that there would be in place … some precautions taken, so hopefully that the vulnerable in the care home would not be in contact with such a horrible illness,” she said.

‘How many others are out there?’

Sheldon Gould’s family member is the other person living at the care home who died. 

His wife’s great-aunt, Eleanor Mclaughlin, was in her 80s. Mclaughlin was diagnosed last week and died a few days ago.

Gould wants to know how the virus got into the care home, and how much it is circulating in the community.

“It makes you wonder, with the [case] counts that are so high, in the [Southern Health Region], where they all are, it took this long to find out about the ones in the care home and I know there’s been others in town. Well how many others are out there?” he said.

Gould’s family also has an uncle living at the care home who just tested positive for COVID-19. 

Provincial regulations require anyone working in a facility to be fully vaccinated or undergo testing up to three times a week. Vaccinated staff do not have to get tested before coming to work.

On Monday, the province announced it would require all designated caregivers to be fully vaccinated.

‘Perfect storm’ for COVID-19

Manitoba is in a “perfect storm” of COVID-19, with rising case numbers, an exhausted health-care system, inadequate resources for testing and a lack of adequate supports in personal care homes, according to Laura Tamblyn-Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national organizaton that advocates for seniors. 

“We’ve seen this kind of perfect storm in other jurisdictions, and we know that when we have these rising cases, more precautions are needed,” she said.

“We need to make sure we’re prioritizing vulnerable people and we need to increase testing. That’s what’s worked in other places, and that’s what we need to do in Manitoba now.”

Hopkins says she has been in touch with the Southern Health region with some of her concerns about staffing levels and a lack of resources, like hand sanitizer.

CBC News has reached out to Southern Health for comment, but did not receive a response before publication.

Hopkins says this far into the pandemic, the health-care system should be better prepared to manage care home outbreaks.

“So let’s have each regional health authority or each hospital have a certain amount of things they would need to be able to treat COVID patients comfortably. Whether they had COVID or not, they still deserved dignity and comfort.”