To the Southbridge Care Homes community,

RE: Response by Ontario’s long-term care sector to COVID-19

Over the past several weeks, Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) sector has faced challenges never before experienced as a result of COVID-19. Families have felt the sadness of losing loved ones, while some care staff have felt the heartache of having to isolate from their families to keep them safe.

In April, we began mass testing across our thirty-seven homes in conjunction with the local public health units which is supported by the governments directive to test all residents of long-term care and retirement homes in Ontario. As of today, we have seven homes that have cases of COVID-19 with two of these seven having only one resident case and another home which expects to have all resident cases cleared by May 14. These outbreaks are not without their tragedies, as sadly, a number of residents have passed away as a result of this terrible virus. On behalf of everyone on our team, we would like to extend our sincere sympathies to their families. Each of these individuals brought their own unique spirit and joy to the residences they called home, and they are deeply missed by other residents and staff.

Protecting the health and well-being of everyone within the Southbridge community is always our top priority. With the spread of COVID-19, we have strengthened our existing protocols and established a number of new protective measures, including the following. A complete list of our actions can be found in our prior posts on this site.

  • Working closely with the local Public Health Unit and the Ministry of Health to implement all directives from the start of the pandemic.
  • All staff are screened for any symptoms of illness and temperatures are taken upon entering the building and again before leaving.
  • We are working with our community health care partners to access additional staff and resources where needed.
  • Our employees are not working at other homes.
  • Residents who test positive are in isolation in their rooms with staff assigned to care for them, and tray service for meals is provided.
  • Staff are working in assigned areas to reduce the risk of carrying the virus between home areas.
  • Rooms where residents are living are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized including the use of equipment specifically designed to enhance infection control.
  • Increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as handrails and elevator buttons.
  • Staff have necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to deliver care and services to our residents and to protect our team members.
  • Only essential visitors are permitted into the home following screening and provision of PPE for the visitor.

While we continue to navigate this evolving situation, we would like to take this opportunity to address some common questions we field:

  1. I called requesting health information of a loved one but was turned down. Why?

We recognize and appreciate that during these extremely difficult times many family members are looking for as much information as possible about their loved ones.

In keeping with Ontario’s Privacy legislation, we can only provide a resident’s personal health information to either the Power of Attorney (POA) or substitute decision maker (SDM), and that is the only person who can receive this information. While we know that residents have many individuals who love them and want to ensure they are receiving proper care, we are simply unable to provide information to anyone but the identified POA or SDM.

In the unfortunate situation where a resident has passed away, the POA will be notified of the passing, and from that point forward we can only share health records with the executor of the estate.

  1. Do some of your homes have past citations and orders issued by the Ministry of Long-Term Care?

We operate within a highly regulated environment. Long-term care homes are required to meet more than 1,000 standards set out in more than 600 regulations. We, at Southbridge, take great care to ensure that we are always working to be compliant with regulatory standards. We take pride in our work, caring for some of our most vulnerable people in our population.

As set out by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, we are subject to inspections. These inspections may include interviews with residents, family members and staff as well as direct observations of how care is being delivered. Results of inspections are publicly available to anyone wishing to see them.

  1. Why have you not responded in a timely manner to the pandemic, which resulted in staffing shortages, personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, and inadequate testing.

A global pandemic of this scope and scale is entirely unprecedented not just in Ontario, but on a national and international level as well. At all times, our homes have relied on the advice and guidance of medical authorities, infection prevention and control experts and the Ontario government when responding to this global pandemic. In light of how rapidly our lives have changed, it is easy to forget that this virus has only existed for a few months, and that governments do not yet have a comprehensive understanding of it.

While we have gone to great lengths to ensure that we are acting swiftly in addressing the challenges we are faced with, staffing issues can only be fully addressed if we are effectively empowered and supported by our partners. Likewise, we are only able to test residents and staff as swabs and testing kits become available.

PPE items that long-term care homes require are in an unprecedented high demand by many industries and sectors across the globe as a result of this pandemic. Long-term care is certainly a priority industry, and, despite reports in the media, Southbridge has always had sufficient supplies of PPE.

  1. Do you have enough staff and are they properly recognized and supported?

This pandemic has impacted our homes in many ways, including staffing levels. Our staff are not immune to this virus, and in our efforts to limit potential spread, we acted with great caution. In some of our homes we have had to rely on support from partner healthcare organizations to ensure residents’ needs are being met while keeping up with daily cleaning, dietary regimes, administrative duties and connecting with families.

Staff across our homes, from nurses and PSWs to cleaning and administrative personnel have consistently put our residents’ health and well-being first. There are countless incidences of staff going above and beyond, from using devices to connect residents with loved ones, to staying at work past their shift to support our homes. These stories are depictive of our truly heroic staff, several of whom are missing their own families while caring for our vulnerable residents.

Our staff deserve recognition for the important roles they are playing on the frontline of this battle against COVID-19. But more importantly, they deserve to be recognized for doing this day in and day out, even when there is not a pandemic. Their ability to care for our residents is truly commendable.

As this pandemic comes under control and we move into the next stage, we look forward to participating in a review process of our long-term care sector. We want to contribute to the sector’s plans and ability to respond to future outbreaks and pandemics through shared best practices and key learnings. This will enable us to continue to care for and protect our residents and staff in the face of future infectious disease outbreaks. We will continue to inform and support advocacy efforts with government about where focus and change is needed.