When a coronavirus outbreak at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre quickly became the focus of B.C.’s COVID-19 crisis, it highlighted some of the failures in the province’s chronically understaffed long-term care system as well as vulnerabilities of residents who live there.
Since the outbreak started in Lynn Valley, it has spread to 21 care homes in B.C. Meanwhile, about 50 residents in the North Vancouver facility have tested positive for the virus and at least 13 have died.
In response, the provincial health officer has issued a temporary order essentially centralizing control of who works at which care homes and ensuring care aides do not work at multiple sites, in an attempt to halt the virus.
Staff required to move to lower-paying facilities have been assured they won’t suffer financially, and this week nurses from other care homes and hospitals who volunteered have been sent to the Lynn Valley care home.
That's good news, said Deanna Harlow, whose elderly dad lives at the facility, "Although I wish it had occurred much, much sooner."
But other families worry such moves have come very late in the day for them, and say there are still ongoing problems.
One woman, whose elderly father lives in the Lynn Valley care home, says he hasn’t been able to have a bath and “he doesn’t know the last time his sheets were changed.”
He hasn't seen a doctor in a long time, she said.
When her dad sent clothes to the laundry to be cleaned, “he only got some of them back,” she said.
Her father, like others, has been confined to his room as part of the outbreak control measures. But “they’re tiny rooms,” she said, adding she’d like to tell her dad there’s some reason to hope that conditions will improve. So far that hasn’t happened.
“He said it was worse than it was in the war,” she said. “That’s a pretty bad statement to make.”
Another woman described dropping off food at the door of the care home at one point recently to supplement what her mother was receiving and speaking to a nurse who was working a double shift on her sixth workday in a row.
Some family members who spoke to the News have been hesitant to use their names, fearing that could impact care of their loved ones or information they’re getting.
After family members were barred from visiting, it’s been difficult to find out what is happening, they said - even about their own family member's condition.
“Nobody can answer me how she’s doing,” said Ashley Cranwill, whose mom lives at the care home, adding she has lain awake some nights wondering if her mom is OK. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s a deadly disease.”
Jane Thornthwaite, MLA for North Vancouver-Seymour, said the situation at the care centre has improved since the early days of the outbreak, but “Staffing has been a huge issue from the beginning. I don’t know whether it’s ever going to be like it was before,” she said. “So I worry about that. ... I worry about the residents who are still there.”
“Certainly, I've heard issues with residents not getting timely care.”
Sometimes the accounts she’s heard from family members have been at odds with public information coming from health authority spokespeople, she said.
“I’m very, very conscious about how the family members feel and what they're experiencing and what they're witnessing, because they're the ones that are on the ground.”
Thornthwaite said she’s been assured by local public health officers managing the outbreak that concerns are being taken seriously.
Harlow said she's had no recent complaints about issues like laundry, although there have still been problems getting food to elderly residents, "especially at dinnertime."
Although she can't visit, "We have been contacting the facility every day; the reports on our father are good," she said.
Vancouver Coastal Health did not respond to requests for updated figures on the number of positive cases at the care centre among residents and staff.
Harlow said she's been told her dad, who had tested positive, is one of 15 residents who appear to have recovered from the virus.
Most of the cases have been in the wing known as the Lodge, but two cases have now also been reported on one floor of the care home's newer Manor building, say families, which shares facilities like a kitchen with the Lodge.
In the past week, the province’s chief medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that focusing attention on “making sure we’re doing everything possible” to address outbreaks in long-term care homes is “incredibly important.”
The Lynn Valley Care Centre “continues to have ongoing issues,” she said. “It really reflects the challenging situation when you have transmission in a facility.”
Tracking health-care workers and ensuring staff is only working at one facility is crucial, she said, adding the existing system has been “a crisis in the making for many years.”
Those moves may spare other care homes from a similar outbreak. But North Vancouver families say they’re still waiting for assurances that adequate resources will be put in place and remain there to ensure their loved ones receive proper care.
Said one daughter, “They’ve suffered long enough.”