This article originally appeared in the 2020-21 Giving Guide. Read the full publication here.
Across Canada, long-term care homes have been hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving facilities scrambling to deal with the costs of protecting residents from contracting the potentially deadly virus.
The first wave of the pandemic killed more than 1,800 long-term care residents in Ontario. At the beginning of May, deaths in LTC homes accounted for more than 80 per cent of the deaths from COVID-19 in Canada.
St. Patrick's Home of Ottawa is a 288-bed, long-term care home that provides assisted living and respite care. It’s also one of the oldest homes for the aged in Ontario. So far, it’s weathered the pandemic better than most, but not without going above and beyond to keep its residents safe, connected and well-cared for.
“The costs around prevention and containment are massive,” said Meg Friedman, executive director of the facility’s charitable arm, St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa Foundation.
Long-term care homes have been receiving special funding from the Ontario government but it’s not enough to cover all the expenses associated with keeping COVID at bay, said Friedman.
The Foundation has been raising funds for St. Pat’s to offset the difference. That means the nonprofit organization has temporarily put on hold one of its urgent priorities: DementiAbility Methods, an innovative program that helps train staff caring for individuals with dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment.
“It’s still a highly desired program but every effort here right now is about prevention and containment of COVID,” she explained.
To help stop the spread of the virus, St. Pat’s has created resident cohorts to minimize the contact between its nine resident home areas. Grouping the residents into small social bubbles has required the hiring of more personal support workers, however.
The facility keeps its front entrance supervised to screen everyone who enters the building. As well, St. Pat’s has gone to considerable expense to supply its staff with the proper personal protective equipment.
“We’ve had a couple of very brief outbreaks but it means every time someone is in and out of a resident’s room you’re fully donning and doffing the PPE,” said Friedman. “There’s a lot of money that’s spent on that, which is absolutely necessary.”
St. Pat’s has ensured its residents remain in close touch with their loved ones. The pandemic forced Ontario long-term care homes to close their doors to all but the most “essential” of visitors.
“We were really worried about social isolation,” said Friedman, who made it a priority to secure several iPads for residents to connect virtually with their loved ones.
St. Pat’s hired at least half a dozen special engagement aides to help residents contact their friends and family through video conferencing or by phone. More recently, the workers have been running small group activities and taking residents down to the outdoor garden or for a meal in the dining hall, which is equipped with plexiglass dividers.
Friedman said the residents of St. Pat’s are doing well.
“It’s amazing how they’ve adapted. I give so much credit to all the nursing staff.”
Being ‘part of the solution’
The pandemic’s tragic toll on older individuals has revealed some of the systemic challenges faced by long-term care homes, said Delphine Haslé, executive director of The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation.
“Our health care system is overwhelmed,” she said. “We really need to transform the way we care for our seniors.”
In another 30 years’ time, there will be three times as many seniors living in Canada, she noted.
The Perley Rideau is one of the largest long-term care homes in Ontario. Its campus includes 450 long-term care beds, a 12-bed guest house providing respite care, and a seniors’ village with 139 independent-living apartments.
In 2019, the Perley Rideau created Canada’s first Centre of Excellence in Frailty-Informed Care, an applied research centre focused on developing best practices and sharing its discoveries to improve the quality of care in every seniors’ home. Its goal: to lead the way in seniors’ care in Canada.
The new centre is continuing to develop and strengthen partnerships across academic and health sectors while attracting highly skilled researchers and students. Its new research chair is Dr. Annie Robitaille, who’s also an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa.
The Foundation is now working to raise $10 million for the new centre through its Answering the Call campaign.
“It’s really exciting times to try and be part of the solution and try to find a better way,” said Haslé.