Red Cross not enough to help Manitoba care homes battling outbreaks, families say

Families with loved ones inside Parkview Place and Maples long-term care homes, the site of Manitoba’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks, say plans to send in the Canadian Red Cross to assist in the homes is too little too late.

“They should have done something like this a while ago,” said Bonnie Ross, who’s 76-year-old mother-in-law lives at Parkview Place, which has been battling the province’s deadliest outbreak since mid-September. 

Ross, whose mother was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, says she is isolating in a room on the fourth floor and continues to voice concerns about staff shortages and inadequate care.

Larry Baillie, whose 88-year-old father contracted the virus at Maples personal care home last week, says he welcomes the additional support but says it’s not enough.

“I would like to see professionally trained nurses,” Baillie said. “I would like to see military.”

Baillie says when the military were sent into long-term care facilities in Ontario in the spring during the first wave of the pandemic, they were not only able to provide assistance but accountability about the state of care, cleanliness and infection control inside the homes.

“They were able to identify some major problems,” he said. “I think that’s what we need. We need to know the truth, we need to know the facts.”

On Monday, Revera, the for-profit company that manages both homes, confirmed it’s working with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to get Red Cross members into both homes “to support the residents with delivery of meals, recreation activities and companionship [and] maintaining isolation in rooms.” 

The announcement comes more than a month and a half after the outbreak was declared at Parkview Place where there have been 147 cases among staff and residents resulting in 23 deaths, and a week-and-a-half after COVID-19 started spreading through Maples Long Term Care Home, which has recorded 166 infections and eight deaths. 

Maples Long Term Care Home, which houses 200 people, is managed by Revera. On Oct. 27, Revera said residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be placed into cohorts and separated from residents who have tested negative. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The announcement of Red Cross support also comes on the heels of a series of CBC News reports that revealed a lack of isolation for residents with COVID-19 from uninfected ones, staff shortages and filthy conditions at Parkview Place.

‘Why did this have to happen?’: Toronto geriatrician 

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and a research fellow with the University of Toronto, calls the situation inside Manitoba personal care homes a “humanitarian crisis,” and he says it should never have gotten to the point of calling in the Red Cross.

“Why did this have to happen?” he said. “Honestly, I am distraught watching what is happening in Manitoba. We have seen this movie before in Ontario and Quebec.”

When you look to other jurisdictions that have successfully managed or avoided long-term care home outbreaks, Manitoba is “falling short” on several key actions, Stall says.

First, he points to a lack of accessible public data on the evolving situations inside the care homes.

The province also lacks a co-ordinated response when it comes to long-term care, acute care sector, public health and government, he says. 

“You look at some of the homes hardest hit … there’s been a collapse in some of the homes of the medical care systems,” he said. “There really seems to be this continued silo of care when what is needed now is a multi-sector response to these homes.”

WATCH | Dr. Nathan Stall reacts to the Red Cross being called in:

Geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall says Manitoba health officials took far too long to enlist additional support to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks at personal care homes. 1:37

In Ontario, Stall says, long-term care homes were partnered with hospitals to assist with the outbreaks and share resources and expertise.

The WRHA, which provides funding and oversight to personal care homes in Winnipeg, had been going over outbreak measures at Parkview Place virtually until an unannounced inspection in mid-October,  a month into the outbreak.

The review called for immediate changes, including the need for 40 health care aides and 20 nurses, increased cleaning, and training on outbreak protocols.

A second unannounced visit by the province last week found improvement was needed with respect to physical distancing and housekeeping.

In a statement, Revera said “staffing is stabilizing at Parkview Place,” adding its boosted regular staffing with “agency nurses and personnel from security firms.” It’s not clear whether all required health care aid and nursing positions have been filled. 

Revera previously told the WRHA it was sending a dedicated full-time nurse practitioner to start working in-person at Parkview Place in late October, in addition to an on-site pharmacist.

The company has also engaged a Winnipeg-based epidemiologist to assist with data analysis and contact tracing. Security guards help with keeping residents isolated.

“All the Revera teams in Winnipeg are working very hard to provide compassionate care for the residents and we are doing everything we can to keep residents and staff safe from the pandemic,” spokesperson Larry Roberts told CBC News in an email, adding it’s added several new “general staff” to both care homes to assist residents with meals and companionship.

Meanwhile, WRHA confirmed to CBC News it does not share acute care medical staff with personal care homes.

Stall, who co-authored a study on the effects of the virus in Ontario long-term care homes, says crowding and the inability to isolate residents in homes such as Parkview Place is another challenge plaguing effective response and increasing risk.

CBC News reported an infected resident was interacting with non-infected residents in a hallway, and in another case a positive resident was isolated from her roommate by moving end tables between them.

‘Get data and mobilize’

“What we need to do now is acknowledge the crisis, get data on this and mobilize to support these homes that are in a real disaster state right now,” Stall said.

Stall says a co-ordinated approach at this point would include the sharing of resources across the long-term care and acute care sector, including infection and prevention and control, expertise and sharing of medical and palliative care resources. 

He also suggests exploring the option of setting up field hospitals in large, vacant spaces to isolate positive and negative residents in homes with outbreaks. 

Stall says he welcomes support from the Red Cross in Manitoba care homes, but underlines the primary need is for more medical care.

“It is unconscionable and unforgivable to have this happening … when there’s been this many months to prepare,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said, “We have taken action at Parkview Place and Maples Personal Care Home, and we will continue to take the necessary steps to keep Manitobans safe.”