Manitoba’s health minister says "the time is right" to allow up to five admissions each week at a Winnipeg care home where 57 residents died during the province’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.
On Tuesday, the province announced Revera-owned Maples Long Term Care facility would begin accepting new residents, at a rate of one per weekday for the next three months.
"We are very comfortable allowing admissions to begin again," Health Minister Audrey Gordon said.
During the outbreak, from Oct. 20 to Jan. 12, 231 residents and staff became ill with the virus.
An external review of the care home found understaffing, inadequate training and lack of preparedness in infection and disease control contributed to the severity of the outbreak. The final report outlined 17 recommendations for seniors care at all levels of government, including six recommendations for the care home itself.
The care home had been banned from accepting new admissions since its licence was placed under review following the outbreak. The licence review process is ongoing.
"We feel that Maples personal care home has fulfilled many of the recommendations that were specific to the care home. We're going to continue to monitor admissions, and to carry out scheduled and unscheduled reviews as the months roll on, but we feel that the time is right to begin to allow admissions," Gordon said.
In an update on the report last month, the province acknowledged the Maples home had satisfied recommendations to bolster its outbreak protocols, improve communication, maintain proper cleaning and ensure adequate staffing.
Families whose loved ones died believe the changes are too much, too soon — especially as families begin sending their kids back to school this week, and a fourth COVID-19 wave looms on the horizon.
"Could we not have at least waited a couple of weeks to know what’s happening in our schools?" asked Eddie Calisto-Tavares. "Where is their big picture thinking?"
Calisto-Tavares had an up-close view of the tragedy in November when her 88-year-old father became sick and eventually died of COVID-19. She had volunteered at his bedside in the facility and witnessed the under-staffing and lapses in care.
"How are they going to monitor that it’s different from what they were doing before?" she asked.
Currently, there are 113 residents in the 200-bed facility, Ontario-based Revera Inc. confirmed Tuesday. The spokesperson said the facility is staffed to provide 3.6 hours of care to each resident per day.
Calisto-Tavares said while that staffing ratio is the industry standard for nurses, it may not be effective for seniors with multiple needs. New admissions should be staggered, she said, to allow time for new residents to adjust and for the facility to ensure it maintains appropriate staffing levels.
The province said the new admissions will be "monitored," and the admissions plan requires the facility to report regularly to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
The authority said 351 people were waiting for placement in a Winnipeg long-term care facility as of Aug. 31. Twenty-five of them were in hospital, and 326 were in the community.
Gordon noted new admissions to Maples will alleviate the backlog.
"We want to ensure that patient flow begins to allow for individuals who have identified Maples… as being a choice destination in community to be able to move into that setting," she said.
When asked if patients would be directed to Maples, Gordon would only say the province tries to accommodate requests. So far, only eight individuals have identified the north Winnipeg facility as their preferred destination, she added.
Calisto-Tavares said she knows about families who have been pushed to admit their loved ones into the first available care bed — whether or not it is their preferred destination.
The bed shortage was amplified last month when Revera announced it plans to close the 270-bed Parkview Place by August 2022.
In a release, Revera cited the 60-year-old building’s "outdated design and layout" as "no longer conducive to the care of elderly residents."
Parkview Place had a severe COVID-19 outbreak last year in which 30 residents died.
"It’s clear that governments must do more to ensure our seniors and elders are getting the care they deserve, but instead of improving quality of care, increasing staffing levels, and ensuring better oversight, the PCs are allowing Maples to accept more patients while its licence is still under review," said the MLA for the Maples, New Democrat Mintu Sandhu, in a statement.
Calisto-Tavares said trust in the Maples care home must be rebuilt. She and other families are involved in a class-action lawsuit against Revera. They have also advocated for an independent seniors advocate. So far, they have had little response from the provincial government, she said.
"The trust has been breached and there has been no concrete, visible way where it has been re-established," she said.
"The bottom line is they didn’t lose anyone — we did."
— with files from Carol Sanders
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.