By Jaymie L. White
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE CROSSING –On Sunday, Jan. 6, Western Health announced that the increased number of active COVID-19 cases in this region included an outbreak at the Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre (BSGLTC) in Stephenville Crossing. Both staff and residents tested positive for the virus, with the first case being reported on New Year's Eve. Following an ongoing investigation it was found that 25 of the 107 residents and 22 staff members had tested positive.
As a result, Western Health implemented increased visitor restrictions. Originally, on Dec. 29, visitors were limited to one designated support person at all facilities; however, beginning Dec. 31 they were no longer permitted.
Tara Pye, Director of Corporate Communication at Western Health, responded to e-mail inquiries.
“New admissions have been put on hold to help protect staff and residents from spread of infection, enhanced PPE recommendations for staff have been implemented including wearing a Respirator (N95 or equivalent), eye protection (e.g., goggles or face shield), gowns and gloves, Infection Prevention and Control staff have been deployed to support this outbreak, an outbreak team is on the ground providing expert clinical advice to help mitigate risk, and all staff who work on the unit which has no positive cases will not be in contact with other units in order to prevent further spread.”
Pye added that there will be future measures put in place across all long-term care facilities, not just for BSGLTC.
“All staff in Bay George Long Term have been provided with rapid tests to help screening for COVID-19 infection. This will be implemented at all long-term care homes over the next couple of days. Staff in long term care will be expected to take an at home rapid test two times a week to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff have also been redeployed from other areas of the organization to support Bay St. George Long Term Care Centre.”
MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville - Port au Port) issued a release on Jan. 6 stating the outbreak at the BSGLTC is ‘deeply troubling' and wished those affected a safe recovery.
“It’s very concerning, and I would hope that the government has already taken whatever steps are necessary to deal with that and to deal with any physical limitations in that facility. They need to make sure that everything that can be done in terms of the separation of the staff and residents and the protection of everybody is being looked after,” he said during a follow up interview.
Wakeham wants to see all available resources utilized to prevent any future outbreaks.
“We’ve seen some of the challenges of what’s happened in other provinces in their long-term care. During the first wave we didn’t have any serious outbreaks, but now we are seeing them crop up across the province. The Miller Centre in St. John’s, the nursing home in Happy-Valley Goose Bay, and of course the outbreak here in Bay St. George. It’s a serious issue and there certainly needs to be a lot of attention paid to it, whatever resources needs to be applied to it need to be done.”
Wakeham believes there are issues with the facility that might be contributing to the difficulties in stopping the spread of the virus within.
“A particular concern for Long Term Care in Stephenville Crossing is because of the physical structure of the building. It is one of the oldest long-term care facilities in the province, and it was built at a time when the level of care was different. It certainly doesn’t have the opportunity for many people to be isolated in individual rooms. Most residents in that facility, I would argue, don’t have access to private rooms, and as well it doesn’t have the advantage of having individual bathroom facilities. Some of the key things you talk about in terms of isolation are more challenged in that facility.”
Wakeham said a new long-term care facility is something he has been fighting for since he was elected back in 2019.
“I truly believe the building has outlived its useful life and it needs to be replaced. That’s not a reflection on the care that is being provided by the staff. It’s just the fact that this is a building that was designed for a different type of care when it was first built, and right now it’s not, in my opinion, meeting the needs of residents in terms of the physical space and layout of the home.”
An employee at the BSGLTC who wishes to remain anonymous said this most recent outbreak has been difficult on everyone, and the staff still working are feeling the effects of so many absent co-workers who tested positive.
“It has been a trying time for everybody. The staff are working their hardest to make sure everyone is properly cared for, but it hasn’t been easy. It seems like there just isn’t enough people to go around, and then an outbreak like this happens, and you have no choice but to keep pushing through. We were overworked and understaffed long before this outbreak and it has only gotten worse with the number of people off right now.”