Unions, families raise PPE concerns after COVID-19 outbreak at Brandon care home

Two unions that represent health-care workers at a Brandon, Man., personal care home say their members are not happy with how an outbreak there is being handled — concerns echoed by a family member of a resident at the home.

As of Wednesday, Fairview Personal Care Home had 27 active cases of the illness — 18 among residents and nine involving staff. One person has died.

“We’re just really concerned,” said Marilyn Biletski, whose 96-year-old mother is a resident at Fairview. “You just totally feel helpless, because what can we do?”

The cases have so far been contained to the facility’s fourth floor, according to the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Biletski said her mom lives on the main floor of the facility and has tested negative for COVID-19. 

“We were assured that everything possible was being done to make sure that it was it was going to be contained and they tested every single resident,” she said.

Her mother’s negative test has reassured her slightly, but Biletski says she was “floored” when she heard concerns from both MGEU and the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals about about a lack of personal protective equipment in the home, and a lack of planning.

“I don’t blame the front-line workers over there at all for any of this,” said Biletski.

“They can only do so much if they’re not getting the the supplies that they need.… Every single person that’s working with those patients, it doesn’t matter if they’re housekeeping or if it’s a doctor, needs to be protected.”

Marilyn Biletski, right, with her mom, Daisy Goddard, who lives in Brandon’s Fairview Personal Care Home. (Submitted by Marilyn Biletski)

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said her union, which has 240 members working at Fairview, has raised concerns about staff moving from floor to floor and not having the proper protective equipment. 

“They say it appears to be mass confusion,” Gawronsky told CBC News in a phone interview on Wednesday. “The big fear is that they’re being moved — they’re being taken from the COVID floor and going to other areas of the facility.”

She says the worker’s uniforms and hair are not covered while they’re working on the fourth floor, where the facility’s COVID cases are.

“That is a major concern, that they could be transporting COVID elsewhere,” or taking the illness back into their own homes, said Gawronsky.

She said workers want better access to N95 grade masks, as well as gowns to cover their uniforms and face shields. 

At a news conference Wednesday, Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said she would look into the situation at Fairview.

“We do know we have adequate PPE,” in the province, said Siragusa. “So if that’s not there [at Fairview], that’s … fairly easy to to fix.”

Gawronsky said if the PPE is available, it should be provided “if for nothing else, the mental and emotional security for all of us — not just the workers in there, but their family, their friends, the families of the residents that are in there.”

Rapid response team deployed

A paramedic rapid response team was sent to the home to help out staff last Friday. Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said medics were sent into the facility without any planning around their duties.

“Our paramedics want to help,” he said. “But they want to make sure it’s done safely, both for them and the residents and the other staff.”

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said the outbreak is taking its toll on staff at the facility, who worry about transferring COVID to other patients or taking it home. (John Einarson/CBC)

He said he has heard paramedics are doing tasks such as feeding and toileting residents, on top of assessing them medically. 

“They’re really just being told to help out however they can, because there’s an outbreak and not nearly enough staff to handle it,” Moroz said.

A spokesperson for Shared Health said the role of the paramedics is to provide enhanced care on site to avoid having to send people to hospital. They are given an orientation on site and are provided with support from facility staff, the spokesperson said.

Gawronsky said the situation, combined with staffing shortages, is taking a toll on workers at the care home.

“I beg the management of Fairview, I beg the management of the [Prairie Mountain Health] authority, and I beg this government to do what is right and make sure that they are protecting these workers, the residents that live in the facility, as well as … the people that live in Brandon,” she said.

Paramedics in the Prairie Mountain Health region are part of an emergency response team at Fairview Personal Care Home in Brandon. (Brandon Firefighters and Paramedics/Facebook)

Biletski said she’s reached out to Fairview to try get some answers to her concerns. She’s hoping her mother can stave off COVID-19 as long as she can. 

“She’s got the most amazingly positive attitude. She puts me to shame some days,” Biletski said.

“Her mantra right now is ‘we do what we have to do, and we’ll get through it.'”