Nettie Dyck has spent the past 10 days alone in her room at Bethania Personal Care Home after being exposed to COVID-19.

Nettie Dyck has spent the past 10 days alone in her room at Bethania Personal Care Home after being exposed to COVID-19.

She has another two weeks of isolation ahead of her after an outbreak was declared at the home.

Now the family of the 96-year-old matriarch worries about the impact of the extended quarantine as nursing homes across Winnipeg go into lockdown and the Omicron variant spreads out of control in the community.

Nettie Dyck, 96, has another two weeks of isolation ahead of her after an outbreak was declared at the home. (Supplied)

Nettie Dyck, 96, has another two weeks of isolation ahead of her after an outbreak was declared at the home. (Supplied)

"She’s just very isolated and has no stimulation to even keep her will to live going," daughter-in-law Elaine Dyck said in a phone interview with the Free Press. "She has a certain amount of dementia, and so having the visitors really helps her to stay focused and grounded."

Dyck said her mother-in-law has been in quarantine since Jan. 7 when she was exposed to the virus by a health-care aide. She now faces 10 more days of confinement despite being triple vaccinated and testing negative as more cases have been found in the building.

The 148-bed home has also put a pause on visits from essential caregivers on affected wings based on guidance from Shared Health.

And with the provincial government warning that everyone will be exposed to COVID-19 and Manitobans need to look after themselves through the Omicron surge, Dyck said her family fears the isolation could be prolonged significantly if more cases show up among staff and residents.

"If that is the attitude the government is exploring, most of these people, this is their end of life home, so they should have some quality," Dyck said. "Everybody has done everything they can. If we’re loosening it up for everyone else, there should be a little bit of accommodation for personal care home residents."

Dyck emphasized the care provided by staff at Bethania has been excellent and she is not critical of the home as it adheres to public health orders and government guidance on COVID-19 outbreaks.

"There’s no real solution. It’s just trying to make some attempts to make things a little better for these people," she said.

"At 96, how many more years are we going to have with her?"

COVID-19 still a high risk of serious illness, transmission in long term care: Shared Health

A spokesperson for Shared Health said the province is working with jurisdictions across Canada to ensure outbreak control guidelines for long term care are the appropriate given COVID-19 transmission and consistent with apporaches being taken across the country.

A spokesperson for Shared Health said the province is working with jurisdictions across Canada to ensure outbreak control guidelines for long term care are the appropriate given COVID-19 transmission and consistent with apporaches being taken across the country.

However, while vaccination is the best tool to protect the elderly population from severe outcomes, there still remains a risk of transmission and of serious illness to those with other health concerns, the spokesperson said.

“We understand and sympathize with the concerns expressed by family members whose loved ones are in personal care homes with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and we are working to balance both the social and mental needs of our residents with the measures that help to minimize their risk of infection,” Shared Health said in a statement to the Free Press.

Designated family caregivers continue to be able to visit in person, provided they are fully vaccinated, do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and are familiar with all personal protective equipment requirements. While general visitors are not permitted in isolation, each facility is working to support alternate means of contact and socialization wherever possible.”

Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly executive director Julie Turenne-Maynard said balancing the risk of COVID-19 against the impacts of isolation on residents is a major issue for operators in the province.

"It does impact them psychologically, emotionally, physically and you see that decline," Turenne-Maynard said. "Anybody who is in isolation for a long time is going to suffer from it. So they are questions that are being discussed all the time with operators in long term care as to what the practises should be."

But at the same time, care home residents who have two or three shots are catching COVID-19 and staffing remains a major challenge during outbreaks, she said. Currently, the risk COVID-19 poses to care home operations, residents and workers is too great to adopt the government’s mantra to "learn to live" with the virus.

"Some personal care homes are taking a very hard line because they’ve gone through three other waves, many of them have been in severe outbreaks," Turenne-Maynard said. "The stress, anxiety, and chaos that is created, not only for the residents but for the staff, are just heightening once again."

According to the WRHA, 29 long term care homes had active COVID-19 outbreaks as of Jan. 14. To date, nearly 93 per cent of residents in Winnipeg have had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Eight residents have died connected to the recent outbreaks but the majority of residents who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms, the WRHA noted.

Turenne-Maynard said going forward it will be critical for the health-care system to apply infection prevention and control practises to allow visitation during outbreaks while giving care homes some security.

That could include reviewing the isolation period for residents who are exposed to COVID-19 based on their vaccination status. Currently, staff who test positive for the virus can return to work after five days of isolation if symptoms are mild and improving.

"Every operator is trying to find that balance and will make decisions that are in the best interest of everybody," she said. "It’s just really hard when you’re in an outbreak and because of what they’ve experienced in the past they know how difficult and out of control it can get."

Melissa Miller, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in nursing home negligence and elder abuse, said isolating residents in their rooms without visits from family does not strike a balance.

"There was so much backlash about of the waves of deaths that happened in the last two years at long term care homes that the operators of these homes are not placing enough balance on the overall well-being of the residents when they’re mostly triple vaccinated now," said Miller, who is the co-founder of the group Canadians 4 Long Term Care, which advocates for national standards for the sector.

Current outbreak strategies that rely on isolation are also a symptom of systemic issues, including inadequate testing and vaccination policies, a lack of paid sick time for workers, not enough full time employees and chronic short-staffing, Miller said.

"Without these systemic issues being addressed, in order for residents not to die of COVID-19 at the rate at which they were in the first few waves of the pandemic, they’re completely losing their quality of life," Miller said.

She said vaccinations for staff in long term care should also be mandatory to better protect residents from infection and repeated stays in isolation.

"That is where we should have the strictest measures, so we can ensure that these residents are still having a semblance of a quality of life," Miller said.

Meanwhile at Bethania Personal Care Home, Nettie will continue to receive virtual check-ins four times a week from her family, Dyck said. She’s grateful for the dedicated staff who make it possible to stay connected to Nettie.

"She really misses us all," Dyck said.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.