Pandemic has highlighted the need for LTC home redevelopment, says OMNI CEO

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted more than ever the need for more spacious, modern long-term care homes in Ontario, says OMNI Health Care president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

OMNI and other Ontario long-term care providers have been advocating for a program to redevelop older long-term care homes for more than a decade.

While there have been strides to make this happen, limited funding, increasing land and construction costs, lengthy approval processes and other factors continue to present barriers to operators seeking to rebuild and renovate long-term care homes in communities across Ontario, McCarthy says.

“Steps have been taken to address that situation, but we need this work to continue; we need to remove the barriers that are holding back the redevelopment of homes to provide safer, more comfortable space for residents,” McCarthy says.

In 2018, the Ontario government announced a plan to redevelop older long-term care homes and to develop 15,000 additional long-term care beds in the province.

The initial bed awards included upgrades and expansion to four OMNI homes – Country Terrace, Pleasant Meadow Manor, Woodland Villa and Almonte Country Haven – as well as a rebuild for a new 160-bed Riverview Manor in Peterborough.

Construction is expected to begin for three of these homes in the very near future.

Once these homes are redeveloped, they will be organized into smaller resident home areas, providing more space and amenities and quieter, more home-like dining and lounge spaces.

These new and redeveloped homes will also see the elimination of three- and four-bed wards, which will not only deliver residents more privacy, but also greater safety in the event of outbreaks.

Due to the pandemic, Ontario long-term care homes are not currently admitting new residents to three- or four-bed wards, a move which McCarthy says OMNI supports.

Funding to support this policy to the end of the year has been an important factor in maintaining stability and staff retention.  However, it is important that the policy be extended beyond the end of the year to maintain that stability, he adds.

“This policy provides for greater space amongst the residents and reduces the risk of transmission,” McCarthy says.

“It has been shown that there is a correlation between outbreaks that occurred during the first round of COVID and the age of homes, so it’s important for the government to ensure the policy and related funding is maintained.”

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

Pandemic has strengthened OMNI’s, LTC sector’s knowledge about curbing viral spread

Still, more government resources are needed for LTC homes to stay ahead of the curve, says OMNI CEO Patrick McCarthy

Although OMNI Health Care and the long-term care sector at large had a wealth of knowledge about infection, prevention and control best practices before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the level of understanding of how to keep residents and staff members safe from the highly contagious virus has greatly increased during the past six months, says Patrick McCarthy.

McCarthy, OMNI’s president and CEO, says when the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March, long-term care homes followed the methodology and safety protocols outlined by Public Health Ontario surrounding the isolation of symptomatic residents and staff.

Public Health Units, initially hampered by a shortage of testing swabs, would only test up to three symptomatic residents in a home before declaring an outbreak. Testing was otherwise not available to determine whether others had been infected.

Public Health officials and government now have a better understanding of the risk of infection amongst otherwise asymptomatic residents and staff, and the need to broaden testing.

According to WHO data, about 80 per cent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus either have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

“That really emphasizes the absolute need for frequent testing and the continued availability of testing,” McCarthy says, adding while there’s more availability of testing today, concerns remain about the capacity of Public Health to provide contact tracing as well as lengthy delays in receiving test results which are essential to containing the spread.

In addition to testing, McCarthy indicates there is a continuous need for homes to have the resources to train, monitor and audit staff practices to ensure infection protection and control protocols are followed at all times because of the potential that can exist for even a momentary lapse in protocol.

Staffing levels in long-term care homes, however, remain an issue.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA), McCarthy notes, is advocating for increased funding and innovative approaches to attracting and training staff to ensure resident care is maintained while also strengthening capacity for infection, prevention and control practices.

“We need action from the government to address that systemic issue,  it’s vitally important to addressing the pandemic,” he says.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

Balancing safety with quality of life as OMNI homes head into winter

While keeping residents safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the top priority for OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes, safety protocols should be balanced with measures to continue providing residents a high quality of life, says the organization’s president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

Although directives from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have eased restrictions on family visits, group programming and outdoor activities in recent months, there has been concern about what will be done to balance safety and quality of life once the colder months arrive.

The future of visitation, especially, has some family members concerned. It’s important that long-term-care home residents can visit their loved ones because this helps residents stay emotionally healthy. McCarthy says in order to maintain in-home visits during winter, testing for the highly contagious COVID-19 virus will need to remain intact.

“There are huge benefits to visitation, but at the same time everyone needs to recognize the  vulnerability in long-term care settings that can only be contained through frequent testing, rigorous tracing by Public Health, and strict adherence to masking, hygiene and PPE (personal protective equipment) protocols,” he says.

“There is a need to continue following the guidelines.”

Currently, staff members working in OMNI long-term care homes are being tested twice per month, and residents are tested if they show any symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Visiting family members must confirm they’ve had a negative COVID-19 test result within the past two weeks.

Another area of concern has been the future of activities and programming once winter arrives.

In summer and throughout autumn, group programs can be taken outdoors, but colder temperatures will mean more time spent inside long-term care homes for residents.

Compounding this is the fact that older homes have less space, which can make social distancing a challenge.

However, McCarthy says these challenges can be overcome by modifying activities and maintaining the use of PPE for staff members.

“Programming will continue to be modified for indoors to make sure it provides safe distancing and protocols around PPE,” he says.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

Resident safety remains top priority as we enter second COVID wave

As we brace for the expected second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many connected to OMNI Health Care long-term care homes, whether residents, family members or staff, may be wondering what the coming months will bring.

Indeed, the past six months have been trying for all of us in the long-term care sector. And while there have been hardships along the way, OMNI team members have stepped up to the challenge and worked diligently to keep residents and each other safe.

Safety will continue to be our No. 1 priority as we prepare to see increased COVID-19 cases in communities throughout Ontario.

OMNI’s focus is keeping that spread from occurring in our long-term care homes.

Rigorous testing for the COVID-19 virus is, and will continue to be, the foundation for the prevention of spread. With the number of positive test results beginning to rise again across Ontario, community spread of the highly contagious virus remains the greatest risk long-term care homes face.

We are mitigating infection risk as much as we can by requiring regular testing for staff members and testing any residents who show symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

Staff members in OMNI’s 18 long-term care homes are being tested twice monthly, and fortunately, there is increased testing available since the pandemic was declared in March.

It’s imperative the federal and provincial governments continue to support testing resources and ensure testing results are received without the delays and shortages of testing supplies that have occurred in the past.

And of course, social distancing protocols and the use of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) will continue to be used by our staff members.

OMNI has maintained a robust supply of PPEs, which include masks, gloves and gowns, throughout the pandemic, and we can report the supply stocks have been increased in recent months.

Still, we need to keep PPE supplies readily available, and we are calling on the province to continue promoting greater availability of PPE supply chains as well as forecasting shortages and taking steps to address potential kinks in the supply chain before they happen.

While there may be concerns about what the coming months will bring, what is certain is that OMNI Health Care is prepared to meet challenges and is intensely focused on the safety and security of the residents living in our homes.

Province needs to address LTC staffing issues to better face second COVID wave

The need for more staff ‘is a big issue that’s affecting health-care providers across the country, and it’s seriously affecting long-term care homes,’ says OMNI CEO Patrick McCarthy

With health experts predicting a second wave of COVID-19 spread to begin within the coming months, the Ontario government needs to address staffing issues in the long-term care sector to help homes better prevent and manage infection, says OMNI Health Care president and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

Given that long-term-care home residents are among the most vulnerable population groups, it’s crucial that additional funding be earmarked to address staffing levels of front-line workers and provide staff training, both of which will be key to preparing for the second infection wave, he adds.

“(Staffing) is a big issue that’s affecting health-care providers across the country, and it’s seriously affecting long-term care homes,” McCarthy says in an interview with The OMNIway.

While long-term-care home staff members have worked tirelessly to keep residents safe from the highly contagious virus, the first wave of COVID-19 impacted homes across Ontario and Canada.

Long-term care homes having access to more front-line staff members will improve residents’ safety, McCarthy says.

All long-term care homes in Ontario receive funding specifically earmarked to provide nursing, personal care, programs and support services with no element of profit or surplus retained from the provision of those health services. As a result, funding for additional care staff needs to come from the province.

Private long-term care providers across Ontario have asked the Ford government to increase the supply of personal support workers (PSWs) by supporting innovative training programs, including on-the-job training and remote training.

McCarthy adds that the COVID-19 pandemic affects long-term-care home staff members beyond their work inside the homes.

For example, there may be instances where people cannot come to work due to outbreaks in the community or in schools, and there needs to be staffing levels to in place to ensure there’s always a ready supply of front-line care workers.

“It’s all a package that affects the availability of staff and the homes’ ability to staff during the pandemic,” he says.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

OMNI homes take advantage of courtyards and gardens to create safe programming

Residents have been enjoying an increase in safe activities, thanks to team members’ ingenuity

OMNI Health Care team members have been coming up with innovative ideas to make the most of the courtyards and gardens that surround the long-term care homes where they work to enhance quality of life for residents during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One creative idea came from the life enrichment team members at Streamway Villa who turned the Cobourg long-term care home’s courtyard into a campground Aug. 10 to 14 so residents could have safe camping experiences.

In the courtyard were an outdoor fire pit, a tent, an inflatable pool where residents could catch plastic fish, posted campground rules and signs warning everyone to “watch out for bears.”

The highlight of the week was a campfire on Aug. 12 where residents roasted marshmallows and hot dogs at the fire pit in the home’s courtyard.

“That was the best part; it was great to see the residents all laughing,” says life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Laurie Kracht.

“Everyone had a great time, and even the residents who normally don’t participate, they were raving about it the next day.”

Since some restrictions in long-term care homes have eased, the nutritional care team at Country Terrace has brought back one of the most popular meal programs: Thursday barbecues.

Every Thursday the Komoka, Ont. long-term care home’s nutritional care team fires up the barbecue to grill hamburgers and cheeseburgers for up to 12 residents at a time, with social distancing in effect at all times to keep everyone safe during the pandemic.

Because there’s a limit of 12 residents at a time who can attend the barbecues, there is a rotating schedule to allow a different group of residents to the event each week.

“(Residents) love the barbecues and especially eating outside in such beautiful weather,” says nutritional care manager Alex Achillini.

In St. Marys, Ont., Wildwood Care Centre residents have been busy tending to the home’s gardens by planting tomatoes and watering plants and flowers.

For many residents, gardening is an activity they have enjoyed their whole lives, so planting flowers, growing vegetables and watering is a way to not only latch on to their past but to continue doing something they love.

“They love coming out to their courtyard and doing the gardening and watching everything grow – that’s what they all talk about,” says LEC Alison Hoskins.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

Alzheimer’s and dementia: keeping the conversation going during the pandemic

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) is continuing its Let’s Talk About Dementia global awareness campaign as part of the 2020 World Alzheimer’s Month, with a large part of the focus being on keeping the conversation about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia going in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month. ADI, a federation of Alzheimer associations across the globe, is working to raise awareness of the prevalence of the chronic neurodegenerative disease as well as trying to reduce its stigma.

According to ADI, more than 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. That number is expected to rise to 152 million by 2050 unless risk-reduction strategies are created, ADI says.

Here in Canada, approximately 564,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. In less than 15 years, the number is expected to climb to 937,000.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for everyone, ADI notes on its website that it’s important to keep the conversation going.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more vital than ever that people continue to talk about dementia,” ADI states on its website.

“Talking about dementia helps tackle the stigma, normalises language and encourages people to find out more information, advice and seek help.”

ADI is offering a campaign guide on its website to help organizations and people spread the word about the World Alzheimer’s Month 2020 campaign.

ADI says people and organizations can also use social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to help raise awareness.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

Maintaining high quality of life while staying safe has been a top priority at OMNI homes

While the global pandemic has presented obstacles, team members have answered the challenge and have worked within safety parameters to keep residents happy

Providing residents with a high quality of life has always been a cornerstone of OMNI Health Care, and while the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic has created obstacles, team members working in the organization’s 18 long-term care homes have stepped up to the challenge of adapting to safety protocols while minimizing the impact on residents.

Socialization is an important part of life in every long-term care home. When the pandemic was declared in March, safety protocols were immediately put in place that resulted in residents being physically isolated from their families and other residents.

Knowing this was going to be difficult for residents, OMNI staff members began organizing window visits and video calls so residents could stay connected to their families. In fact, video calls have remained so popular at some homes that residents and families are still requesting them, even though restrictions on visitation have been eased recently.

“FaceTime and Skype are being offered seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., in half-hour blocks, and every day each block is spoken for, so residents and their loved ones are spending a lot of time together (through real-time video calls),” Forest Hill life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Craig Forrest recently told The OMNIway.

Programming is an important part of life in long-term care homes, and with large-group programming currently suspended, team members have had to think outside the box in order to fill the need for meaningful activities.

Shortly after the pandemic began, Springdale Country Manor life enrichment aide Trish Mills came up with an idea to take a keyboard down the hallways at the Peterborough-area long-term care home, playing and singing residents’ old favourites outside their rooms.

“When we cannot have programs or group gatherings we decided to take the music down the halls,” said Springdale LEC Sonia Murney.

Ontario has had one of the warmest summers in recent memory in 2020. Between the heatwave and the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, Streamway Villa residents have been in need of some fun, so the Cobourg long-term care home’s team members created a splash party that followed safety guidelines while providing some “cool” fun and laughter.

There were water guns, balloons, beach balls, a small pool and an inflatable unicorn to play a game of ring toss with (the object being to toss rings on the unicorn’s horn).

“We are trying to bring some normalcy back, and I have not seen some of the residents laugh like they did in a long time,” said LEC Laurie Kracht.

If you have a story you would like to share with The OMNIway, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

If you have feedback on this story, please contact the newsroom at deron(at)axiomnews.com.

OMNI teams continue tapping into their creativity to enhance quality of life during pandemic

Maplewood life enrichment aide Rosanne Blackburn, pictured above, recently dressed as Elvis and danced to one of the King’s songs for the home’s residents.

Staff members are coming up with ideas to keep residents happy while adhering to safety policies

While OMNI Health Care long-term care homes continue to navigate through the changes that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s team members have been demonstrating their creativity to keep quality of life high for residents. Read more

Balancing the risks and benefits of visitation during a pandemic

One of the greatest challenges the global COVID-19 pandemic has presented for long-term care homes is determining the balance between maintaining quality of life for residents while adhering to safety protocols to keep the extremely contagious virus out of homes. Read more