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'Living a nightmare': More York Region long-term care homes struggle with COVID-19

Public health orders issued to homes in Aurora, Richmond Hill and Vaughan
Jan. 11, 2021
Kim Zarzour

More York Region long-term care homes are struggling with surging COVID-19 infections.

A fast-moving outbreak at Willows Estate in Aurora has led the local public health unit to step in.

The local medical officer of health issued an order Jan. 7 requiring the home, operated by OMNI Health Care, to improve staffing and infection control -- the fourth public health order issued to York facilities since the second wave of the coronavirus.

The facility, on Yonge Street north of Bloomington SIderoad, has been in a COVID-19 outbreak since Dec. 24, with 19 of its 78 residents and seven staff testing positive.

Dr. Karim Kurji said a series of inspections found Willows Estate has inadequate staffing levels to meet the needs of residents, inadequate senior leadership on site and lacks knowledge and processes for infection prevention and control.

Kurji ordered the home to improve staffing and ensure staff and visitors are trained and monitored on infection prevention and control, or face fines up $5,000 for every day in noncompliance.

"The situation evolved rapidly over the past several days," said Patrick McCarthy, OMNI president and CEO.

In addition to sick residents, several key staff from the leadership team have been quarantined and unavailable, he said.

OMNI is taking action to bolster management and staffing and is working with public health, the ministry, Ontario Health and Canadian Red Cross for infection prevention and control support, he said.

Two other homes were issued similar orders in November: Villa Da Vinci in Woodbridge and Langstaff Care in Richmond Hill.

Richmond Hill long-term care home issued order by York Region health unit

Villa da Vinci, which has been in outbreak since Oct. 23, has reported 75 out of 108 residents infected, six deaths and 42 out of 62 staff infected.

Langstaff’s outbreak lasted 44 days, but is now considered closed. Eight out of 147 residents tested positive and 10 out of 143 staff tested positive.

Villa Leonardo Gambin, which was issued a public health order Dec. 31, remains in outbreak with 58 out of 164 residents infected, two deaths, and 37 out of 189 staff infected.

Chartwell Woodhaven, in Markham, is also dealing with a large outbreak, although York Region public health has not stepped in. Since the outbreak was declared Dec. 5, 43 of its 177 residents and 47 of 200 workers tested positive. Ten residents have died.

Sharon Ranalli, VP of marketing and communications for Chartwell, said the home is working closely with Markham Stouffville Hospital and public health. It has heightened protocols and opened a vaccine clinic Jan. 7, she said.

Ranalli blamed the severity of the outbreak on “the nature of the virus, the rate of community spread and the tools currently available to manage the spread of this highly contagious disease in a congregate setting with an older population.”

Georgina resident Maureen McDermott, whose mother contracted COVID-19 in the hard-hit home of River Glen in Sutton, and who has become a passionate advocate for better care, described the psychological effect on families “living a nightmare

“I’ve mourned my mother so many times throughout this pandemic,” she said, fighting back tears. “I remember looking through a window, thought I was saying goodbye when she was diagnosed with COVID and God love her, she survived, but at what cost? She’s deteriorated so badly."

McDermott has been taking part in protests at long-term care homes across the province and hearing "horror stories".

“There are families calling 911 from their rooms. They are banging on walls to be helped out of soiled diapers and the conditions are getting worse and worse,” McDermott said.

The current plan to focus vaccinations on Ontario hot spots -- York Region along with Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex -- is “riddled with holes” because it only contains one quarter of long-term care facilities in the province, added Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University.

“West Virginia completed all of its 214 long-term care home vaccinations for both staff and residents,” she said. “They succeeded because they treated this vaccination program like the emergency that it is.”