COVID-19 outbreaks spread through Ottawa’s long-term care, nursing homes

More than 30 long-term care and nursing homes in Ottawa handle COVID-19 outbreaks, though many employees and residents already have three vaccine doses – raising concerns among experts, lawyers and family members.

Chris Haslett’s 80-year-old mother has been isolated in her room in her nursing home for a week after two employees tested positive.

While residents got PCR tests a week ago, many results have yet to come back, so they remain limited to their suites.

“My assumption was that they would turn these around pretty quickly until we got a letter last night that Ottawa Public Health is [delayed by] 10-plus days for PCR testing, “Haslett said.

“So my mom has been locked inside her room since Sunday and there is no hope that she will come out until at least Monday or Tuesday.”

The province announced earlier this month that it was restricting access to PCR tests for certain groups, including seniors, due to capacity issues.

Given this policy, Haslett said it is unacceptable that people still have to wait a week and a half for their results. He has sent a letter to both Premier Doug Ford and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson about his mother’s treatment and the way the pandemic has been handled.

“I feel that our governments do not prioritize the elderly,” he wrote. “It seems they are useless and their lives do not matter.”

Ottawa Public Health was not available for an interview.

But Dr. Doug Manuel, an epidemiologist in Ottawa, said the new Omicron variant is of particular concern to seniors as it can “spread like wildfire” and two vaccine doses do not appear to adequately prevent infection.

Three doses may also not be enough to prevent serious infection in older people, Manuel said, which is why fourth doses are likely to be needed.

“The concerns are so great because it’s so transferable and these people are so vulnerable,” he said.

“This week we saw the number of outbreaks increase very, very fast in Ontario, so the potential for Omicron to enter the facilities is quite high.”

Dr. Doug Manuel, seen here in early 2021, says the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading ‘like a steppe fire’, and that’s a big concern for older Ottawans. (Posted by Dr. Doug Manuel)

Lack of staff and isolation are also concerns

Along with a lack of tests and long waits for results, long-term and nursing homes are also facing severe staff shortages, Manuel said.

It is also a concern for Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, a non-partisan advocacy firm for seniors.

“At this point, we can see that Omicron has just run amok through every home,” she said.

The lack of staff has serious consequences for residents’ quality of life, she said, from not being fed or taken to the toilet regularly to not receiving adequate medical care.

It’s an experience, said Tamblyn Watts, that could take years of life for an elderly person.

“Social isolation is utterly devastating,” she said. “I can not stress it enough.”

Haslett said his mother has dementia, so she does not fully understand what is happening and why she has been kept in her room.

While the management of her home is doing the best they can to keep everyone informed, Haslett said the blame lies with those who made the rules.

“We are not doing what is right for them,” he said. “I agree that we need public health measures to keep them safe, but you can not lock people in their rooms.”

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