A worker is seen cleaning surfaces inside Little Mountain Place, a long term care home in Vancouver, on January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A worker is seen cleaning surfaces inside Little Mountain Place, a long term care home in Vancouver, on January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. care home allowed group activities to continue after positive test: family

Little Mountain Place became the deadliest care home outbreak in British Columbia

Parbs Bains had a “sinking feeling” when she heard a single staff member tested positive for COVID-19 at her grandmother’s care home.

On Nov. 20, Little Mountain Place sent an email to families that said an employee had contracted the virus and was in isolation. A Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer determined there was “minimal exposure risk” and was not declaring an outbreak, it said.

Instead, the health authority placed the home on “enhanced surveillance,” including heightened monitoring of residents, hypervigilance in screening visitors and stronger infection control practices. Visitors were still welcome and group activities were continuing, the email said.

Bains felt certain that this was the beginning of the end for her 89-year-old grandmother.

“I was like, ‘This is it.’ I was bawling because I just knew this was going to be it,” Bains recalled.

The facility declared an outbreak two days later.

It has become the deadliest care home outbreak in British Columbia. Ninety-nine out of 114 residents have been infected and 41 of those have died, including Bains’s grandmother. Seventy staff members also tested positive, but most have recovered.

Two families are questioning whether some deaths could have been avoided if the home had taken stronger measures immediately after the first case was identified. They also say that a hard-working but understaffed nursing team struggled to keep residents isolated and care for those who were sick as the virus spread through the facility.

During a Zoom call with her grandmother after she contracted COVID-19, Bains said another female resident entered the room and began hugging and kissing the elderly woman on the forehead. After several minutes, a nurse rushed in and ushered the other resident out, she recalled.

Bains said that while she didn’t know if the other woman had the virus, it alarmed her that residents were able to wander between rooms without staff immediately noticing.

On other occasions, Bains said her grandmother’s oxygen tubes were out of her nose and she would desperately yell for help over the Zoom call. Nurses told her that her grandmother was actually one of the fortunate ones because her room was close to their station, Bains said.

Bains said she is “so angry” at the way the outbreak was handled.

“Something had to have gone wrong at Little Mountain Place … for this to be so lethal,” she said.

Little Mountain Place referred questions to Vancouver Coastal Health, where Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said the provincewide standard is that outbreaks are not automatically declared when one staff member tests positive.

The health authority determines whether the employee was in the care home during their infectious period and whether they potentially exposed other staff or residents, for example by not properly using personal protective equipment, she said.

If there is no evidence of exposures, the authority places the home on “enhanced surveillance” and monitors for other cases, she said. Some testing may be done, and group activities continue but must always follow a COVID-19 safety plan, she said.

Declaring an outbreak every time a single staff member tests positive would be too hard on residents who suffer when they are isolated and their visitors are restricted, Daly said.

“We’re trying to find that right balance.”

Vancouver Coastal Health said there was no mass testing of all residents and staff after the first case was identified. It was only on Nov. 22, after a resident tested positive and the outbreak was declared, that full-facility testing was done, it said.

Daly said broad testing is not always necessary because it depends on the risk and timing of potential exposures.

At Little Mountain Place, it became clear transmission occurred before the initial case was identified, she said.

She said during an outbreak, residents are supposed to stay in their rooms, but it is very challenging for patients with dementia to follow those rules. Staff are advised to monitor residents who wander but not to lock anyone in or restrain them,

she said.

“Keeping residents with cognitive impairment in their rooms, that has been a common challenge across all facilities in all of our outbreaks,” Daly said.

Bains and another relative, Bernadette Cheung, have demanded an investigation of the care home’s response to the virus.

Daly said she received a letter from a family member last week and has ordered Vancouver Coastal Health’s licensing team to conduct a review once the outbreak is over.

The team will examine whether the home is following regulations under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act and, if not, will require it to develop a plan to address those gaps. In very rare cases, reviews by the team have led to a change in management, Daly said.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said she wants to see routine testing of all staff members at care homes. At Little Mountain Place, all staff and residents should have been tested immediately after the first employee tested positive, she said.

Screening for symptoms is inadequate because people can be asymptomatic and contagious, she noted.

“The fact that more people were infected two days later, if you had tested everybody before then, you’d have caught some people,” she said. “You would have been able to isolate them if they were residents or you would have been able to pull them from the roster if they were staff.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial public health officer, said Monday the province is “looking at” regular rapid testing of staff in care homes. Ontario started doing rapid testing at long-term care facilities in November.

Cheung, whose grandmother died of COVID-19 at Little Mountain Place and has been outspoken about her concerns, said Health Minister Adrian Dix called her on Monday. She said he promised an “intense review” of the outbreak and to follow up again with her about his conversations with the care home and the health authority.

The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though the conversation was light on details, Cheung said she appreciated his empathy.

“That gives us hope, at least, that it is a priority for him.”

She said she has also received confirmation from Vancouver Coastal Health that her formal complaint against the care home will proceed.

Cheung has criticized the care home for not being transparent with families. She wants to know more about why the health authority determined there was “minimal risk” of exposure from the first infected staff member and declined to declare an outbreak on Nov. 20, she said.

“Essentially, we’re being kept in the dark and it raises concerns and even suspicions,” she said.

ALSO READ: Canada secures 20M more Pfizer vaccine doses; U.S. border closure extended to Feb. 21

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since December 16 on Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Alberta reports 1,521 additional COVID-19 cases, 674 new variant cases

Daily case total the highest since mid-December

County of Paintearth
County of Paintearth meeting highlights April 7th

Bylaw 698-21 was presented to council for first reading during their April 7th meeting of council

Supporters pray outside as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021, after being charged with holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta church shut down, fenced off for ignoring COVID-19 health restrictions

Police and security staff were on hand as metal fencing was erected around the church building earlier today

A cross made out of hockey sticks at a makeshift memorial is silhouetted against the setting sun at the intersection of a fatal bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., on Monday, April, 9, 2018. A virtual tribute is planned to mark the third anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VIDEO: Humboldt Broncos team to be honoured on third anniversary of fatal bus crash

16 people died and 13 were injured when a semi-trailer ran a stop sign into the path of the hockey team’s bus

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Stettler’s own Renegade Station is kicking off the spring season with a brand new single - to be released April 9th. (Photo submitted)
A brand new single is on the way from Stettler-based band Renegade Station

Free Free Free hits all streaming platforms on April 9th

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau waits for a virtual meeting to begin with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa, Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa mulls exempting more workers from Canada-U.S. border shutdown: Garneau

Canada-U.S. border has been closed to people travelling for vacations and other non-essential visits since March 2020

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls: Statistics Canada

Figure released this morning outpaced the 259,000 gain seen in February

FILE - This file photo dated July 10, 1947 shows the official photograph of Britain’s Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, Lieut. Philip Mountbatten in London. Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died aged 99. (AP Photo/File)
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 99

Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year before being released on March 16

Campbell River city council will continue its 2020 policy of waiving late fees and NSFs. (Mirror File photo)
53% of Canadians teetering the brink of insolvency: survey

A majority of Canadians admit they’re just $200 away from not being able to pay their monthly bills

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Kenney faces criticism from doctors, his own caucus, over new COVID-19 health rules

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants

Josee Cabral is seen in her office in Chateauguay, Que. on Thursday, March 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Watch the details to help avoid financial headaches when filing your tax return

Small, easily avoidable mistakes could end up costing you if you’re not careful

Most Read