Canada nursing home reels from death of almost half its residents
A retirement home in Canada that lost nearly half its residents to coronavirus is scrambling to protect the remaining healthy inhabitants who lived alongside infected neighbours for nearly two weeks.
Pinecrest nursing home, a privately run facility in the town of Bobcaygeon, Ontario, has emerged as one of the country’s deadliest Covid-19 hotspots.
Twenty-seven of the home’s 65 residents have succumbed to the disease, and the spouse of one resident, who often volunteered at the home, has also died.
But it was not until last week – after 16 deaths – that sick residents at the home were finally separated from healthy residents, according to CBC News.
A respiratory outbreak at Pinecrest was first declared on 18 March. Three residents tested positive for Covid-19 shortly afterwards, and in the following weeks the virus tore through the home, overwhelming residents and infecting dozens of staff.
The layout of the facility complicated efforts to contain the outbreak. Pinecrest has a mix of private and semi-private rooms to house residents, as well as shared rooms that sleep four people. In some cases, however, only a curtain separated residents, even though staff told families that sick residents had been isolated, CBC reported.
On 20 March, a media release from Pinecrest and the local health authority said residents had all been isolated into separate areas with meals served on trays and staff using personal protective equipment.
Following the fatalities, a reshuffle in the facility has finally allowed staff to move healthy residents to their own rooms.
“That’s the reason why we actually have the space now. Because we’ve lost … residents,” Sarah Gardiner, a nurse at Pinecrest, told CBC News. “But before, there really was not the space to do that. It would have been an impossibility, I think.”
Twenty-four staff have tested positive, and many of the residents are also presumed to have the virus.
“It’s a war zone – more than one nurse has said that,” Dr Michelle Snarr, Pinecrest’s medical director, told reporters. “I feel like a field commander in a war.”
Like other countries around the world, Canada has grappled with a surge in coronavirus cases in long-term care homes across the country, whose residents are among the most vulnerable to the virus.
On Tuesday, Canada reported 17,063 coronavirus cases and 345 deaths, nearly half of which have come from long-term care homes.
Some facilities have scaled up their precautionary measures, including fever checks for workers entering, and preventing care aides and cleaning staff from working at multiple locations. Provincial leaders have pledged millions of dollars in support and promised to hire more staff.
Quebec’s premier, François Legault, said 519 of the province’s 2,200 facilities had recorded a coronavirus case. In Ontario, 67 residents have died and 51 long-term care homes are battling cases.
“What we’re seeing happening to our seniors and in our long-term care homes … is hard to process, it’s hard to comprehend and it’s hard to deal with,” the Ontario premier, Doug Ford, told reporters.
The unfolding tragedy in Bobcaygeon has also struck a deeper note with many Canadians because of its location. The town, a bucolic retreat for Ontarians looking to escape city life, was immortalised in song by Canada’s most celebrated band, the Tragically Hip.
Released in 1999, the song Bobcaygeon has become the most enduring hit from the band’s extensive catalogue.
As the coronavirus situation worsened over the weekend, the guitarist in a Tragically Hip cover band called on Canadians to sing Bobcaygeon from their front porches as a way of supporting the hard-hit community.
“All I saw was bad news the last few weeks,” said Richard Kyle. “But now I’ve literally spent 24 hours watching people sing Bobcaygeon. The outpouring of support is coming everywhere.”
The effort has helped raise more than $70,000CAD (£40,000) in donations for the Bobcaygeon relief fund. “I know all my neighbours in Bobcaygeon. They all know me,” said Kyle. “And whenever there’s a problem, the community steps up.”