BALDREY: B.C. health authorities made critical decisions that saved many lives in care homes

As the horror stories continue to come out of Ontario and Quebec long term care homes, it is worth noting that B.C. health authorities made a series of critically important decisions back in March that likely averted similar outcomes here.

Chief among them may have been the decision to allow private, for-profit care homes access to the province’s supply chain of personal protection equipment for their staff. The PPE was being rapidly bought up around the world, and it was vital to protect all care homes since data from China showed people over the age of 80 are particularly vulnerable to the worst outcome from getting the virus: death.

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This ensured far fewer care aides became ill with COVID-19 and lessened the chance of bringing the virus into a facility. It also meant care aides were able to stay on the job in greater numbers, the reverse from what has happened back East.

The decision came shortly after the first outbreak at a B.C. long-term care home was reported. The Lynn Valley care home in North Vancouver has seen 79 residents there contract the virus, with 20 people dying (the outbreak was declared over more than a week ago).

Another decision was made around then, although it has taken much longer to implement. This is the so-called “single site” policy, which forbids care workers from working in more than one facility. Part of that policy has seen the B.C. government “top up” the wages of workers who have lost shifts at other facilities.

Other moves made early on include literally locking-down long term care homes from almost all visitors, establishing “rapid response teams” to quickly go into a facility where someone tests positive and establish infection control, and also the hiring of more than 1,000 care aides since the pandemic began.

These moves did not prevent tragedies, of course. More than 90 residents in B.C. long term care homes and assisted living facilities have died from COVID19.

But without those measures taken early on by such key health figures as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Vancouver Coastal health officer Dr. Pat Daly, Health Minister Adrian Dix and deputy health minister Stephen Brown, those tragic outcomes could have been much, much worse.

By way of example, almost 4,400 people in Quebec have died in long-term care homes there, according to the Montreal Gazette.

One of these measures – greatly restricting access to long-term care facilities by family members wanting to visit loved ones – is proving to be increasingly controversial. There is clamor for an easing of such restrictions, but it is hard to see that occurring in the near future.

A reminder of how dangerous COVID-19 can be to elderly people is the tragic experience at the Langley Lodge care home, where more than 20 residents have died, including some after the facility thought it was out of danger.

Dix says some other provinces have followed B.C.’s lead, and admits this province could have moved even earlier.

“We could have been faster,” he told me. “But we were faster than a lot of other places.”

Dix says B.C. will now shift its focus when it comes to long-term care to making working in such facilities an attractive career, and trying to secure federal dollars to replace aging facilities in this province.

One thing the pandemic has clearly done is that it has vaulted long-term care issues to the top of the health-care priority list.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.   

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