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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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.

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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.

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