Vaccines offer hope for pandemic’s end, but it’s staff who will get us there

It has been 11 months since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, but 2021 is starting with a sign of hope in the form of two vaccines that have become available in Ontario and are being introduced in phases.

Long-term-care home residents, staff members and essential caregivers are amongst the first in line to receive the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are being administered in the province’s 14 public health units.

People living and working at several of OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes have now received the vaccine to help protect them from the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.

In January, the Ontario government announced that due to delays in shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, all available doses are being directed to the province’s long-term care and retirement communities in an effort to protect the most vulnerable segment of the population.

While the vaccines are the first step towards bringing normality back to OMNI long-term-care home residents and their families, we still have a way to go before things are back to the way they were.

As it has been up to this point, it will be the people working in OMNI’s long-term care homes who will be navigating each home’s journey into post-pandemic times.

The vaccine helps protect immune systems, but it’s the staff members who keep residents’ emotional health strong and spirits high.

And they have done an outstanding job.

With safety precautions in effect, this past holiday season was especially challenging for residents and their loved ones to be separated during what is usually a time for families being together.

But staff members and communities showed tremendous compassion for residents during the holidays, as evidenced by the stories we have published in The OMNIway.

While the vaccine may be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, it has been the passion OMNI long-term-care home staff members have for their work that has kept residents’ quality of life as high as possible.

The value of their service to residents and families during what has been the most challenging year in recent memory cannot be understated.

Their dedication will continue to carry us forward.

OMNI home redevelopment projects move forward in 2020

A major success for OMNI Health Care in 2020 was the move forward on three redevelopment projects, the announcement of a new home redevelopment project for Village Green and additional funding to expand the redevelopment project for the new Riverview Manor.

Construction has now started on the expansion of three OMNI long-term are homes: Pleasant Meadow Manor, Almonte Country Haven and Woodland Villa.

Once completed, these will all be Class A homes and will feature a wide range of modern amenities, such as wider hallways, more home-like dining and lounge spaces, and privacy for residents will be improved by having only one- and two-bed rooms.

During a Nov. 16 groundbreaking ceremony at Pleasant Meadow Manor, Sandra Tucker, the Norwood long-term care home’s administrator, said residents are especially looking forward to having more space, once the project, which will expand Pleasant Meadow by 34,000 square feet, is completed.

“They’re looking forward to the new rooms and having no more than two to a room,” she said.

Meanwhile, the province announced in November that funding has been approved to build a new Village Green in Greater Napanee that will have 128 beds, 62 more than the home currently has.

While there is no confirmation on when construction on the new Village Green will start or be completed, administrator Linda Pierce said a tentative site for the home is being considered on the west side of Lennox and Addington County Road 41.

Pierce said the new Class A Village Green, once completed, will enhance quality of life for residents and staff members.

“From bathing to dining experiences, everything will be enhanced,” she said. “Everything, in my opinion, will be more favourable to resident care and to the quality of life of the resident and the quality of life of the worker.”

Pierce added that the redeveloped Village Green will be a community asset because the additional 62 beds will help minimize waiting times for people in the region requiring long-term care.

There has also been good news for Riverview Manor.

The province announced in November that funding has been approved to add 32 beds to the 36 new beds that were promised in December 2018 for the rebuilt Peterborough long-term care home.

Riverview Manor’s current location on Water Street has 124 beds. Construction on the new Riverview Manor, which will be nearby on Langton Street in Peterborough’s north end, will likely start in 2021 and will take about two years to build.

During a virtual press conference on Nov. 20, Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith said the additional 32 beds Riverview Manor will receive will improve access for people in the region who require long-term care.

“Our seniors deserve quality care in the communities they live in,” he said.

“This is why (this) announcement of more new beds is so important. We are working to reduce wait times and meet the needs of our aging population now and in the future.”

Life enrichment teams’ creativity keeping spirits high

Keeping spirits high for long-term-care home residents during such challenging times is important to maintaining quality of life, and life enrichment team members in OMNI Health Care homes have been proving they have what it takes to develop meaningful, creative programming.

Willows Estate recently started its baking program again, much to the delight of residents who enjoy making pies and other sweets. Recently, residents at the Aurora long-term care home got to bake apple pies that were served at a tea social.

Aside from the residents’ work resulting in delicious apple pies for everyone to enjoy, baking also brought back many fond memories for the residents, says life enrichment aide (LEA) Azaria Kanda.

“It is such a delight to watch these ladies fully immersed in this activity, for we know how much this has a positive effect on people,” he says.

“You can feel the exhilaration and pure joy as one is in charge of peeling the apples, while one is working on the dough and the other is helping set up the trays in preparation for the baking.”

At Kentwood Park in Picton, LEA Brandy Courtney recently created a safe, autumn-themed craft program for residents to participate in during the pandemic and to celebrate the changing of seasons.

Residents were provided with a paper template drawing of a tree with leafless branches. The goal of the activity was for residents to paint fall leaf colours – yellow, orange, red and brown – on the trees.

A small group of residents was provided with paint and a special tool to dab colours on the trees: broccoli.

Dabbing pieces of the vegetable into the paint to stamp on the tree branches created a realistic pattern of vibrant autumn colours, Brandy says.

“Making these colourful fall trees with the residents and using a healthy snack to do it, well, you can’t get any better than that,” Brandy says.

At Frost Manor in Lindsay, LEA Sarah Thayer recently revamped a painting program that was first led by LEA Kim Williams – who is now life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) at Pleasant Meadow Manor – and was popular with residents.

The program starts with Sarah creating a drawing that serves as a model, and the residents create their own painting based on that drawing.

The first time Sarah led the program for residents she painted a birch tree. For October, the model will be a silhouette of a cat sitting on a tree branch. November will feature a Remembrance Day poppy.

“The great thing is we can do this socially distanced, which works out really well,” says Frost Manor LEC Lyndsay Burton, adding the program has been “going over really well.”

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2020 hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned a lot

There’s no softer way to say it, 2020 has been a challenging year.

For the first time in a century, the world has been dealing with a large-scale pandemic that has changed the way we live, work and spend our free time.

For those working in the greater health-care sector, 2020 has been especially challenging. Front-line workers have had to adapt like no one else in the workforce to keep the coronavirus in check.

Work life and family life have been greatly impacted for health-care workers, who have had to adapt to the changing circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.

We have seen this first-hand at OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes, and we are grateful for the sacrifices team members have made – both personal and professional.

But for all the challenges and anxieties this year has brought, there has also been a lot we have learned as a collective team.

When the pandemic was declared in March, we learned how much local communities value our long-term care homes when kind letters, cards and complimentary meals began showing up for our teams.

Being physically distanced from those we care about is never easy, but we learned how supportive and understanding family members were when they could not visit their loved ones due to safety restrictions in place at long-term care homes for the first three months of the pandemic.

Providing residents in our long-term care homes with a high quality of life is the most important part of our work. Throughout 2020, we learned how creative and innovative our team members are – even under the most challenging of circumstances – when it came to providing residents meaningful programs, meals they enjoy and the care they expect.

And despite the staffing shortages affecting the Ontario long-term care sector at large, we learned how well we come together when our residents need us most.

We are still living through the pandemic, and there will be more challenges ahead. The good news is we are on the right path. We have proven that time and time again throughout 2020.

Homes keeping people connected during pandemic

Teams develop creative ways to keep everyone in the loop

Members of the Frost Manor family council are pictured here during a video conference.

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in restrictions that affect visitation in long-term care homes, creative thinking on the part of OMNI Health Care team members is helping keep families and volunteers connected.

At Streamway Villa, life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) Laurie Kracht and life enrichment aide Chelsea Tinney have created a Facebook page to keep residents’ family members updated regularly on the activities and programs their loved ones are participating in at the Cobourg, Ont. long-term care home.

Knowing residents’ families are interested in the activities offered, Laurie and Chelsea have been uploading photos and videos of socially-distanced activities and of the residents themselves to keep families up to date during the pandemic.

Family engagement on the Facebook page has been strong, Laurie says, adding family members often provide content to share.

“Families have started sending us pictures through Facebook Messenger, and we started posting those, and we’re getting e-mails left, right and centre (from family members) saying they love the page,” she says.

“I’ve had comments from family members saying (the Facebook page) makes them feel like they’re there and they know what’s going on.”

Given the changes happening in the long-term care sector due to the pandemic and the fact that family councils have not been able to meet inside long-term care homes since March, Frost Manor has been keeping its family council members and volunteers up to date on the latest news at the home by sending them the monthly activities and special events calendar.

This, says LEC Lyndsay Burton, is helping “keep the conversations flowing.”

Family council and volunteers are particularly interested in activities, events and programs, so the team wanted to keep everyone in the fold, she adds.

Lyndsay says there are a few members of Frost Manor’s family council who have stayed on the council even though they no longer have a loved one living at the home. This, she says, speaks to the value of the connections family members make with the Frost Manor team.

“We talk about the programs and what we are doing in detail,” Lyndsay says. “I will send a copy of our newsletter, especially if they don’t have a resident living here anymore, because they’ll be missing those things.”

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New OMNI website feature helps families book visits with residents

Families are praising the application for being easy to use; staff members say it’s saving them time

A new application on the OMNIway website that helps family members schedule visits with their loved ones living in OMNI Health Care long-term care homes is receiving praise from those who have used the feature and from staff members, home managers say.

Family members have been pleased with how quick and easy it is to book a visit with their loved ones, while staff members have been complimenting the application for the time it has been saving them which can be spent on resident care.

Families can visit the booking page, select the home they wish to visit and choose the type of visit they want – indoor, outdoor or virtual.

The application self-organizes and ensures double bookings don’t happen for those homes that do not have the capacity for multiple visits at a time.

For example, if one family member reserves a 2 p.m. spot for a visit on a particular day, the 2 p.m. block is then immediately removed for that day. Some homes can accommodate more than one visit at a time, and those homes have the ability to set up more than one booking for a particular time slot.

When appointments are booked through the application, home administrators receive an e-mail notifying them.

Each day’s bookings can then be printed and distributed to the staff members who organize the visits as well as to the team member who is screening at the front door of homes.

“It’s very user friendly … and it’s a great program, in my opinion,” April Faux, the administrator and life enrichment co-ordinator (LEC) at Burnbrae Gardens, says of the application.

“There is minimal room for error, we’ve never had anyone double book, and it gives families lots of options for visits.”

Sonia Murney, the LEC at Springdale Country Manor, says in addition to simplifying bookings for family members, the website feature also reduces the workload for staff members.

Because the application does all the work, staff can focus more on resident care.

“I think this is going to be a huge time saver,” she says.

At the time of this writing, 10 OMNI long-term care homes are using the application and more may be added in the future. Family members of residents of homes using the system are still welcome to phone to arrange visits, if they prefer.

Family members wishing to book a visit online can click here to learn more.

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CEO gives OMNI homes a top grade for COVID-19 response

‘It has really been about dedicated staff going over and above,’ says Patrick McCarthy

Asked how he would grade team members at OMNI Health Care’s 18 long-term care homes for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s president and CEO Patrick McCarthy doesn’t hesitate in his response.

“A-plus is considered the top mark, but we need to put another plus beside it” to truly recognize the contribution of staff members, McCarthy tells The OMNIway.

The global COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March by the World Health Organization. OMNI homes immediately put strict ministry protocols into effect, and OMNI’s pandemic plan was followed to the letter.

Knowledge of the virus, its transmission and impact has grown over time, and protocols, directives and guidelines have continuously evolved to reflect that knowledge.

The expanded availability of public health resources for testing and tracing has also had a significant effect on the ability to contain the spread.

While a major COVID-19 outbreak did occur in late March at one OMNI home, Almonte Country Haven, McCarthy says staff members at the home went above and beyond to care for residents in the face of the highly contagious virus.

“They were heroic in the contributions they made and their personal sacrifices; they showed tremendous passion and caring for their residents and each other,” he says.

Limited outbreaks among staff or residents have occurred at several other homes, and staff showed equal dedication and caring, McCarthy adds.

Aside from adhering to safety protocols and strong staff diligence, McCarthy says OMNI homes have also focused on communication with staff during the pandemic.

For example, daily team huddles for staff members to talk about issues and share information with each other on everything from residents’ well-being to the availability and use of personal protective equipment to the latest information about the COVID-19 virus has been vital.

But more than anything, McCarthy says OMNI staff members’ resident-centred approach to care and dedication to their work has been the big story during the pandemic.

“It has really been about dedicated staff going over and above,” he says. “They made sure the residents were cared for and were kept safe in a very difficult situation.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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