A worker is seen cleaning surfaces inside Little Mountain Place, a long term care home in Vancouver, on January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A worker is seen cleaning surfaces inside Little Mountain Place, a long term care home in Vancouver, on January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. care home allowed group activities to continue after positive test: family

Little Mountain Place became the deadliest care home outbreak in British Columbia

Parbs Bains had a “sinking feeling” when she heard a single staff member tested positive for COVID-19 at her grandmother’s care home.

On Nov. 20, Little Mountain Place sent an email to families that said an employee had contracted the virus and was in isolation. A Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer determined there was “minimal exposure risk” and was not declaring an outbreak, it said.

Instead, the health authority placed the home on “enhanced surveillance,” including heightened monitoring of residents, hypervigilance in screening visitors and stronger infection control practices. Visitors were still welcome and group activities were continuing, the email said.

Bains felt certain that this was the beginning of the end for her 89-year-old grandmother.

“I was like, ‘This is it.’ I was bawling because I just knew this was going to be it,” Bains recalled.

The facility declared an outbreak two days later.

It has become the deadliest care home outbreak in British Columbia. Ninety-nine out of 114 residents have been infected and 41 of those have died, including Bains’s grandmother. Seventy staff members also tested positive, but most have recovered.

Two families are questioning whether some deaths could have been avoided if the home had taken stronger measures immediately after the first case was identified. They also say that a hard-working but understaffed nursing team struggled to keep residents isolated and care for those who were sick as the virus spread through the facility.

During a Zoom call with her grandmother after she contracted COVID-19, Bains said another female resident entered the room and began hugging and kissing the elderly woman on the forehead. After several minutes, a nurse rushed in and ushered the other resident out, she recalled.

Bains said that while she didn’t know if the other woman had the virus, it alarmed her that residents were able to wander between rooms without staff immediately noticing.

On other occasions, Bains said her grandmother’s oxygen tubes were out of her nose and she would desperately yell for help over the Zoom call. Nurses told her that her grandmother was actually one of the fortunate ones because her room was close to their station, Bains said.

Bains said she is “so angry” at the way the outbreak was handled.

“Something had to have gone wrong at Little Mountain Place … for this to be so lethal,” she said.

Little Mountain Place referred questions to Vancouver Coastal Health, where Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said the provincewide standard is that outbreaks are not automatically declared when one staff member tests positive.

The health authority determines whether the employee was in the care home during their infectious period and whether they potentially exposed other staff or residents, for example by not properly using personal protective equipment, she said.

If there is no evidence of exposures, the authority places the home on “enhanced surveillance” and monitors for other cases, she said. Some testing may be done, and group activities continue but must always follow a COVID-19 safety plan, she said.

Declaring an outbreak every time a single staff member tests positive would be too hard on residents who suffer when they are isolated and their visitors are restricted, Daly said.

“We’re trying to find that right balance.”

Vancouver Coastal Health said there was no mass testing of all residents and staff after the first case was identified. It was only on Nov. 22, after a resident tested positive and the outbreak was declared, that full-facility testing was done, it said.

Daly said broad testing is not always necessary because it depends on the risk and timing of potential exposures.

At Little Mountain Place, it became clear transmission occurred before the initial case was identified, she said.

She said during an outbreak, residents are supposed to stay in their rooms, but it is very challenging for patients with dementia to follow those rules. Staff are advised to monitor residents who wander but not to lock anyone in or restrain them,

she said.

“Keeping residents with cognitive impairment in their rooms, that has been a common challenge across all facilities in all of our outbreaks,” Daly said.

Bains and another relative, Bernadette Cheung, have demanded an investigation of the care home’s response to the virus.

Daly said she received a letter from a family member last week and has ordered Vancouver Coastal Health’s licensing team to conduct a review once the outbreak is over.

The team will examine whether the home is following regulations under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act and, if not, will require it to develop a plan to address those gaps. In very rare cases, reviews by the team have led to a change in management, Daly said.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said she wants to see routine testing of all staff members at care homes. At Little Mountain Place, all staff and residents should have been tested immediately after the first employee tested positive, she said.

Screening for symptoms is inadequate because people can be asymptomatic and contagious, she noted.

“The fact that more people were infected two days later, if you had tested everybody before then, you’d have caught some people,” she said. “You would have been able to isolate them if they were residents or you would have been able to pull them from the roster if they were staff.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial public health officer, said Monday the province is “looking at” regular rapid testing of staff in care homes. Ontario started doing rapid testing at long-term care facilities in November.

Cheung, whose grandmother died of COVID-19 at Little Mountain Place and has been outspoken about her concerns, said Health Minister Adrian Dix called her on Monday. She said he promised an “intense review” of the outbreak and to follow up again with her about his conversations with the care home and the health authority.

The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though the conversation was light on details, Cheung said she appreciated his empathy.

“That gives us hope, at least, that it is a priority for him.”

She said she has also received confirmation from Vancouver Coastal Health that her formal complaint against the care home will proceed.

Cheung has criticized the care home for not being transparent with families. She wants to know more about why the health authority determined there was “minimal risk” of exposure from the first infected staff member and declined to declare an outbreak on Nov. 20, she said.

“Essentially, we’re being kept in the dark and it raises concerns and even suspicions,” she said.

ALSO READ: Canada secures 20M more Pfizer vaccine doses; U.S. border closure extended to Feb. 21

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusSeniors

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Parksville city hall sign. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville city council approves 2021 workplan

Public input still sought on municipal budget and financial plan

Colin Springford expressed his thanks following a birthday truck parade that was held for him on his 75th birthday on April 10, 2020. (Submitted photo)
Longtime Nanoose Bay farmer Colin Springford dies at age 75

‘He will be deeply missed, always loved and never forgotten’

Nicole Shaw, left, and Sekoya Dawn next to their respective works at the Qualicum Arts Supply and Gallery in Qualicum Beach. The art will be on display until the end of February. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Acrylic artists display work in Qualicum Beach

Nicole Shaw and Sekoya Dawn both featured at Qualicum Arts Supply and Gallery

Gord John stands during question period in Ottawa in Sept. 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIAN DIOTTE, HOUSE OF COMMONS PHOTO SERVICES)
2020: A Year in Review with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns

NDP MP wants to ‘build back better’ in 2021

Parksville Fire Department crews attended the scene of a house fire on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 at the end of Foster Place in Parksville. No injuries were reported. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Fire crews called to battle house fire in Parksville

No injuries reported, kitty rescued

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after suspicious device found in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

Most Read