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Loved ones worried about low staff vaccination rates at nursing homes – CBC.ca

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An average of only 65 per cent of long-term care staff working in Ottawa long-term care homes have received vaccinations against COVID-19, a survey by CBC reveals, leaving residents in some facilities to face further isolation and confinement as homes grapple to contain outbreaks, mainly involving staff.

The low staff vaccination rate is a serious concern for residents’ families, many of whom had hoped that once their loved ones and caregivers were vaccinated, there would be more freedom.

“Where’s public health?” asks Betty Yakimenko, head of the family council at Madonna Care Community in Orléans, where just 51 per cent of workers have received the vaccine.”

What it all boils down to is our family members are now still stuck in their rooms, yet again.– Betty Yakimenko, head of family council at Madonna Care Community

Yakimenko added: “Something needs to be changed. This is ludicrous. What it all boils down to is our family members are now still stuck in their rooms, yet again.”

Over the week of March 15, CBC Ottawa surveyed all 28 long-term care homes in the city, asking each home for the percentage of staff and residents vaccinated.

CBC compiled this research because information about staff vaccination rates is not public and could not be provided by Ottawa Public Health. OPH’s dashboard information was used to compare outbreaks, deaths and total case numbers. 

Two homes refused to provide CBC Ottawa with information: Villa Marconi and Manoir Marochel. 

An analysis of the data showed a stark contrast in the number of residents vaccinated versus staff across the city, and revealed that some homes have experienced a remarkable difference in success in vaccinating staff. 

Eight homes had fewer than 53 per cent of staff vaccinated against COVID-19. Five of those homes are currently in outbreaks. A select few homes have had success getting staff vaccinated, with five homes seeing an uptake of over 85 per cent.

In general, resident vaccination rates have been exceedingly high, with every home reporting at least 87 per cent of residents vaccinated.

The home with the lowest rate is Centre D’Accueil Champlain in Vanier, a city-run facility, where only 43 per cent of the 230 staff members have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. 

The facility with the highest number of workers vaccinated is Osgoode Care Centre, a non-profit facility in Ottawa’s rural south. It’s seen a 95 per cent uptake among its 150 staff members. However, it is also experiencing its first outbreak of the pandemic, with one staff member with COVID-19.

WATCH | ‘Something needs to be changed’:

7 outbreaks in LTC home since last April

At Madonna Care Community — where 47 residents, two staff members and the spouse of a worker died of COVID-19 in 2020 — only 51 per cent of workers have received the vaccine, compared to 96 per cent of the residents by early February.

Madonna, operated by Sienna Senior Living, is in its seventh outbreak since last April, once again forcing residents to isolate in their rooms.  

“The fact that only 51 per cent of staff are vaccinated is a huge concern … it’s been a continuous outbreak and it’s all staff related,” said Yakimenko, whose mother, Elsie Stadler, has not contracted COVID-19.

Close to half the staff at Madonna have tested positive for COVID-19 since last spring, according to Ottawa Public Health (OPH).

We continue to work with health-care unions to encourage vaccination for all our team members.– Extendicare statement

Yakimenko, who is an essential caregiver and has already been vaccinated, doesn’t understand why uptake isn’t higher.

“If the staff don’t look after themselves, then who’s going to look after the residents?” said Yakimenko.

A spokesperson for Sienna told CBC it plans to hold staff town halls to provide “opportunities to learn about the vaccine and ask questions.” Sienna is also making arrangements to provide transportation to vaccinations.

The city and OPH have plans underway to make vaccinations available at nursing homes in the region. 

“An on-site clinic is scheduled for this Friday at the Centre d’Accueil Champlain home for staff and residents,” said Dean Lett, director of long-term care at the city.

A staff member at Ottawa’s Carlingview Manor waves from a window on May 15, 2020. An average of 65 per cent of long-term care staff working in Ottawa-area homes have received their COVID-19 vaccine, a CBC data analysis reveals. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

‘People are confused’

CBC spoke to two personal support workers at Ottawa homes where only about half the staff have been vaccinated. 

Both PSWs said co-workers fear there’s not enough proof vaccines are safe. 

“People are confused,” said one worker from Extendicare’s West End Villa, where 47 per cent of staff members have been vaccinated.  

In a statement to CBC, Extendicare said: “We continue to work with health-care unions to encourage vaccination for all our team members.

“However, until mass vaccination is completed and herd immunity is achieved in the community, the virus will continue to circulate and represent a threat to our homes.”

Access to vaccination delivery is also a concern for Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

In some cases, staff had to find their own transportation to vaccination clinics and seek appointments on their days off, she previously told CBC.

“That staff group has been very severely exploited. They are often racialized. They have a lot of distrust of what’s being told to them and what’s happening.”  

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto, has told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that Ontario’s rate of vaccinations among nursing home staff was ’embarrassingly low.’ (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Province won’t mandate vaccinations

The provincial government estimates 74 per cent of long-term care workers across Ontario have received one vaccination dose. 

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto, had told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that Ontario’s rate of vaccinations among nursing home staff is “embarrassingly low.”

“I don’t really want to blame anything on the staff here, because, frankly, Ontario’s support for its staff and its long-term care and retirement homes hasn’t honestly been terrific,” said Sinha. 

In an interview with CBC, the minister of health and long-term care, Merrilee Fullerton, said since nursing home staff were the first to be offered the shots, they “might have had some vaccine hesitancy. 

“Everyone who’s doing the vaccine is doing a tremendous job looping back to the homes to see if there are additional staff that would like to be vaccinated now that they understand more,” said Fullerton.

Yakimenko thinks the provincial government should make the vaccine mandatory.

The minister says that’s not something she plans to do at this point. 

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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