Preparations ongoing for COVID-19, flu season in Hastings County long-term care homes

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The second wave of COVID-19 hasn’t devastated our region’s long-term care homes to this point and Hastings County’s Long-Term Care department is taking essential strides to make sure any major spread doesn’t occur.

Director Debbie Rollins stated in a report to the Long-Term Care Committee in a virtual meeting this week that they are receiving directives through the provincial government fall preparedness plan, which outlined initiatives including infection prevention and control, as well as PPE supplies.

“Further to that, at the end of last week, we did receive two new directives specific to those two areas,” Rollins said.

“There was a funding announcement for infection prevention and control and some minor capital, so we’re starting to go through that now and we’ll look at the impact it has for our two homes and how we can use that funding.”

Rollins stated staff is taking a “proactive approach” in securing copious amounts of personal protective equipment such as gowns, masks (specifically of the N-95 variety) and gloves.

“The directive from the Ministry of Health is they will do a one-time supply of eight weeks of PPE for the homes,” she explained.

“We had a meeting at our association and asked what specific types of N-95 masks they have to provide to the homes. The challenge we have right now, is we have to fit-test for the N-95 masks. If they’re not masks we have in the homes, we need to be able to fit-test on them in advance of being able to provide them to our team members.”

In addition, Rollins stated staff at Hastings County’s resident homes have set up an area with so-called “isolation carts” with extra PPE supplies.

“This is so, in the event that we have to do any type of isolation or move quickly into an area that needs extra protection, everything is readily available to the team members on their resident home areas, so there will be no running around looking for supplies.”

This approach is being taken as a result of prior experience, so that the homes are set up for the greatest possible success in mitigating the virus.

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at Hastings Manor back in the spring, but ever since late April-early May, the residence has not experienced any virus spread and continue to remain outbreak-free, Rollins said.

Three of the Hastings-Prince Edward region’s five deaths were attributed to residents of Hastings Manor.

Bancroft’s Hastings Centennial Manor, the other long-term care home under Hastings County’s jurisdiction, has not experience any devastation surrounding the virus.

Rollins added they are also intending to add full-time hours for current team members in the homes that have “earned their service with us.”

When asked by committee member Pat Culhane regarding whether Loyalist Personal Service Worker graduates could potentially receive some full-time hours through a government hiring program, Rollins stated it would best to give those to workers in the homes already, but stated there’s always the opportunity for the grads to receive part-time hours.

Regarding the pending influenza season, Rollins told the committee Hastings County Long-Term Care has set up active screening to detect any staff member or visitor who may be coming to a home while sick with the flu or other viruses.

“The active screening covers the whole gamut of symptoms. Unless you’re asymptomatic, you’re not coming into our homes,” explained Rollins.

“It’s not foolproof. You can not be demonstrating any symptoms and still be positive.”

As far as compliance with immunizations, the Director said he hopes to see a bigger uptake this year to avoid a crash of the healthcare system.

In the past, Hastings Manor immunization rates have been in the 80 to 90-percent range, Rollins noted, with Centennial Manor being a little lower.

“Knowing what we know now that we’re dealing with the pandemic as well as influenza, we are hoping to see an increase in the compliance rate with our team members,” said

She added flu vaccination isn’t mandatory as of right now and there’s no indication Ontario is going to make it mandatory any time soon for staff.

“We will do the best we can to continue to educate and promote it (in the community).”

In answering a question from committee member Coun. Terry Cassidy, she said even if the flu vaccine is not 100-percent preventative, it would make management easier for it to be mandatory to work in a long-term care facility.

In conclusion, Rollins stated it’s up to the general public to co-operate and follow the guidelines that are in place to protect the most vulnerable.

She indicated that there is a general feeling of anxiety through the homes from residents and staff.

“We know it’s out there. Part of our frustration is when we’re seeing it all around and knowing that restrictions are being changed in different areas,” she said.

“We have visitors from all over coming to the homes – some from hotspots – and there’s no directive to enable us to manage it differently than what we are doing now.”

Rollins had a message to team members to be responsible outside of the work environment and encouraged family members and visitors to be respectful of the protocols that are in place, as they are in “everybody’s best interest.”

“It’s definitely a waiting game right now.”