3rd resident dies of COVID-19 as Calgary nursing home struggles to hire more staff amid outbreak

A third resident at a southeast Calgary long-term care facility has died of COVID-19, operator Revera Living said Tuesday, as the seniors’ home struggles to hire more staff to cope with dozens of cases there.

In total as of midday, 41 people had tested positive for the disease at the McKenzie Towne long-term care home, including 36 residents and five staff members. More details were expected when Alberta health officials give their daily update on the state of the COVID-19 outbreak in the province later Tuesday afternoon.

“The team at McKenzie Towne, and the entire Revera family, are devastated to announce the passing of two residents at the home,” Revera’s chief medical officer, Dr. Rhonda Collins, said in a statement Tuesday.

“We offer our deepest sympathies to their families and friends, to their fellow residents and to the employees who have been providing them with such compassionate care.”

One resident remains in hospital for treatment, Collins said.

Revera Living says the 150-bed facillity has 82 residents in isolation with 10 tests pending.

The first McKenzie Towne resident to die was a woman in her 80s on March 24, just two days after she showed symptoms.

On Sunday evening, a second resident, a woman in her 70s, died at the home.

The third resident died early Monday morning, the company said. No details about this person have been released yet.

The residents have not been identified publicly.

Care home asked AHS for more staff

Managing care for all those people has become challenging, Collins said Tuesday, so the company is trying to ramp up staffing by hiring more people and drawing on Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff. 

She toldthe Calgary Eyeopener that the health authority had provided multiple nurses and doctors to assist with the care. The centre also needs more housekeeping and dietary employees, she said.

“What I can tell you is that we are doing everything we can to improve staffing,” Collins said. “We have the appropriate number of staff right now for a normal situation — but that is not a normal situation.”

She said her Calgary team is in regular contact with AHS about what it needs to handle the COVID-19 outbreak, and has asked the health authority specifically for help with staffing.

Dr. Rhonda Collins, chief medical officer for Revera Living, says Alberta Health Services had provided nurses and doctors to help care for residents of the McKenzie Towne long-term care facility but they also need more housekeeping and dietary employees. (Revera Living)

CBC has reached out to AHS for more details about its role.

Collins said the working conditions under strict COVID-19 hygiene policies have been a strain on nursing home staff.

The Ontario-based company runs nine facilities in Calgary, offering either retirement living or long-term care.

Collins said the company has limited employees to working at one site only to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to any other sites, should somebody test positive.

She says the need for personal protective gear and extensive cleaning procedures also add time to everyone’s workday.

Patients’ family worries situation ‘out of control’

Shauna Parks, whose 78-year-old mother tested positive and is being one of those living in isolation in the home, said the situation has caused heartache for her mother and her family.

Parks said her mother has what she understands to be one of the milder cases in the home but worries the staffing issues mean she isn’t getting the attention she needs. She says her mother complained Sunday of waiting for hours to be lifted out of bed while mucus clogged her throat.

“I’m really concerned about that, the staffing there and the nurses who are run off their feet,” Parks said. “They need more more staff to to assist in this. It’s just out of control.”

The McKenzie Towne facility has 150 resident beds. As of noon Tuesday, three residents had died and 82 residents in total were in isolation. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Parks’ also said her mother told her she was waiting hours longer than usual to get her pain medications.

However, Parks said Revera told her as well that medications were being given on time, despite the staffing challenges.

Collins also told the CBC the company’s records show residents are getting their medications on time.

She said she could not speak about specific residents’ cases due to privacy protections.

Sick resident misses seeing family including 22 grand-kids

To prevent further infection from coming into the facility, visits have been cancelled, with families only able to reach their loved ones through video chats and phone.

“I just think it’s hard for her, for everyone. My mom has a lot of kids and 22 grand-kids, and I think it’s very stressful for everyone that we’re not able to do more right now and to be able to see her,” Parks said.

“You can tell she’s really concerned, and I feel for her.”

The company’s top doctor suggested people mail in cards and letters, as well, to help cheer up residents.

On the weekend, people in the McKenzie Towne community tried to show their support. People stood on the sidewalks and sat in their cars outside the facility — while respecting physical distancing guidelines — and sang along to Lean On Me. Others made signs to hang on fences.

“That warms my heart so much,” Collins said.

The company’s latest update to family members said it expects to see more positive cases until April 6.

Residents of 2 other Alberta nursing homes among those hit by outbreak

Alberta Health has been giving daily updates on the COVID-19 outbreak every weekday afternoon:

  • As of Monday afternoon, the total number of known cases had reached 690.
  • The province announced five more deaths on Monday, bringing Alberta’s total to eight. 
  • Two other nursing homes have seen COVID-19 cases in Alberta. A person with the virus at Rosedale on the Park nursing home in Edmonton died, according to Monday’s provincial update. Shepherd’s Care Kensington, also in Edmonton, has four cases.

CBC News will continue to livestream the daily provincial update on the CBC Calgary and CBC Edmonton websites as well as on Facebook.

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