Living Through a COVID-19 Outbreak at Richmond Care Home
Manager, Richmond Care Home
Director, Personal Support Services & Community Support Services, Ottawa
It has been a year now that we have been living with COVID-19. The topic of its impact has become as redundant as conversations about the weather, all of us contemplating and chiming in on how it’s permeated all aspects of our lives.
Where we have seen the greatest impact is in congregate care settings: retirement homes and long-term care. Doing all they can to keep it at bay, the incessant nature of the virus means for many homes whose threshold it has crossed, the questions becomes how bad and how long?
For the most part, Carefor works in the community, supporting people in their homes, but we do have three retirement homes: Carefor Mackay Centre and Carefor Civic Complex in Pembroke and Richmond Care Home, our homelike 16-bed retirement home just outside of Ottawa for women living with dementia. It was at Richmond Care Home that we experienced a full outbreak of COVID-19.
Despite months of implementing intense safety measures to protect our residents, care team and visitors from COVID, what was initially identified as an “unidentified respiratory outbreak”, became a full COVID outbreak with all thirteen RCH residents testing positive. As you can imagine, we were very concerned with COVID entering our home, given the high-risk to our residents many of whom live with multiple comorbidities, advanced frailty, many 90+ years of age and all living with dementia.
We knew when we first heard the words “COVID positive” there would be no going back; we would be living with it for a while and there was real work coming. Having seen the tragedies that have transpired in other long-term care and retirement homes over the past year, our staff and our residents’ families feared the worst. What came next was a surprise. How quickly the team rallied and was supported by our community of health system partners, led to a completely different outcome than we were expecting.
Carefor, with support from Champlain Home and Community Care (formerly the LHIN) and Ottawa Public Health (OPH), immediately put supports in place for the residents and our care team. Daily communication between us and our partners quickly identified areas of support, oversight, encouragement, success, and areas in need of improvement. A wrap-around supportive approach to ensure continuous flow of information, personal protective equipment, an emergency staffing plan and community medical support to care for the residents was quickly put in place.
The care team was courageous, entering each shift to face the unknown. They worried about many things, such as the residents they cared for becoming very ill, wondering how they could maintain isolation in a unit of individuals with moderate-advanced dementia, wanting to ensure the residents did not experience loneliness and fear, and on top of that, hoping they themselves did not get sick or bring the virus home to their families.
The team stepped up to the challenge. They pulled extra shifts, stayed late and helped each other. Some staff took little to no time off in between shifts to continue supporting the residents and team. Cooks helped with one-on-one activities with residents; recreation staff helped with serving meals in the residents’ rooms; nurses and PSWs busily provided enhanced care, support and diligent monitoring. The constant donning and doffing of personal protective equipment meant staff were hot, awkward and tired. But still they persisted, maintaining the safety between them, the residents and others in the home. Personal protective equipment meant staff were safe to sit with the residents, to spend time beating back their loneliness and sharing some fun.
Additional staffing was pulled from Carefor’s Personal Support Services and Visit Nursing programs to supplement the care team and assist with clinical monitoring. They joined the team seamlessly, jumping in to help out and sharing some much needed laughs along the way. The residence physician, Dr. Michelle Casey, diligently followed all the residents’ cases and was on site regularly to review, assess and support the care team and residents. Showing up in her decorated scrub cap and ski goggles, she showed confidence in the care being provided, rallied the team and reassured families. Carefor dedicated one care team member to provide daily updates to all families about their loved ones, hearing worries and fears and reinforcing the steps being taken and sharing any progress.
Carefor also worked with Food for Thought to have hot meals delivered to the home for staff to take home, to help avoid the stress of having to cook for their families following their shifts. Families had takeout and treats delivered to the residence and sent messages of hope and care to the staff. One family member even decorated the front entrance for Valentine’s Day with red lights, hearts and door hangings to spread cheer among staff upon entering.
Over time, resident cases resolved. We watched daily as residents continued to improve, knowing the collective efforts of this amazing team were working. We had managed to keep COVID at bay. Some say we had luck on our side, and although that is certainly true, I can say with confidence that the dedication of the team, Dr. Casey, and all the additional support from our partners made our success story a reality.