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Extended quarantine ‘very grim’ for residents of B.C. retirement residence: daughter

Health authority procedures questioned after six-week COVID-19 outbreak at Westminster House
Fraser Health in mid-September declared a COVID-19 outbreak at Westminster House in South Surrey. (Google Streetview photo)

A South Surrey woman whose mom is among nearly three dozen seniors who have been on lock-down since mid-September is questioning why – more than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic – a system hasn’t been devised to reduce the impact of quarantine measures on locked-down care-home residents who continue to test negative for the virus.

“Even though my mom has tested negative week over week over week, she’s still in jail and will be until there are no more cases for two weeks,” Leanne Thain said Friday (Oct. 22).

“It’s been very grim.”

Thain said her mom, 81, hasn’t been able to leave her room in Westminster House’s complex-care unit (at 1653 140 St.) since a COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Sept. 13 after three staff members tested positive. As per established protocols, outside visits, occupational therapy, baths and social activities all were halted, as was even such simple basics as eating with regular dishware and cutlery.

She said she filed a complaint with Fraser Health regarding the continuing conditions not to target the facility – “I know they’re doing their best” – but rather as a last resort to shed some light on the impacts and advocate for those affected.

She’s also hopeful that her mom’s story will help persuade people who may have been on the fence about getting the vaccine that it is in the best interest of all.

“People need to understand what is going on on the inside when we have these outbreaks,” Thain said. “Maybe it would help them get vaccinated or feel like, yeah, we don’t want to have people live like this.”

Fraser Health officials said Monday (Oct. 25) that over the course of the past six weeks, there have been a total of 24 positive tests at the site – 16 residents and eight staff – and two deaths.

Facility owner Gord McNaughton said that every time the outbreak appeared to be ending, a new positive case would restart the two-week quarantine clock. He’s hoping for better news out of tests that were conducted Oct. 25.

If those results are all negative, “then we’re free,” he said Monday.

Thain said she questioned for weeks why COVID-positive patients in the affected unit couldn’t be separated from those who were negative, to help contain the spread.

READ MORE: COVID-19 infection, illness still critical for Northern B.C. hospitals

McNaughton said he felt the idea had merit, but when he asked Fraser Health – whose guidelines all licenced facilities in this region must follow – if the most recent positive case could be moved to a hospital, the answer was a firm no.

“Our hands are tied in terms of decisions we can and can’t make,” McNaughton said. “They’re totally against it.”

He wonders if, had the last two positive cases been transferred, “maybe this thing would’ve been over earlier.”

Fraser Health has said that the protocols being followed for each outbreak in the region are “best practices” that have been evolved over the course of the pandemic under the guidance of the provincial health officer, and are in place “for the greater good.”

“It’s a pandemic, there’s people in the facility that have tested positive,” a spokesperson for the health authority said. “We’re trying to prevent the spread, this is the best way to do it until we’re certain it’s not spreading any more.”

Measures implemented by the health authority at the outset to contain and curb spread of the virus, according to a Sept. 14 news release, included supporting staffing levels; restricting social visits; modifying staff and resident movement to minimize exposure; enhanced cleaning; notification of residents, families and staff; and twice-daily screening of staff and residents.

Thain said the support has fallen short of meeting the isolated residents’ needs, noting her mother went three weeks without a hair wash before a medical exemption that enabled her to have baths was granted.

McNaughton agreed the past six weeks have been difficult.

“Residents in quarantine is not good,” he said. “The virus is one thing, but the boredom and loneliness is another.”

He said the residents’ doors were left open and that staff in full PPE (personal protective equipment) were in and out of the rooms frequently. He noted that Thain’s mother had been taken for some short one-on-one walks, however, inclement weather of recent weeks has stymied that.

The Fraser Health staffing support was appreciated, McNaughton added, but not enough. Overtime at the residence has been four times what it normally is, and “our staff are exhausted.” He noted that no staff were displaced due to being unvaccinated, however, booster shots for the residents arrived later than expected – delivered in the midst of the outbreak, rather than in August.

Thain reiterated that her criticisms are not directed at the facility itself; that her main focus is to advocate for her mom and the other residents.

But so far, those efforts have been to no avail. In addition to Fraser Health and Westminster House officials, she’s connected with the office of the seniors’ advocate and Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford.

“It just doesn’t seem like anyone can help,” she said.

“It’s heartbreaking that while the Canucks are going to have a full arena tonight (Oct. 26), and yet my mom who’s triple-vaccinated is not able to get out of her room in a nursing home.”
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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