Since last week’s incendiary report on the state of five long term care homes in Ontario as observed by the Canadian Forces, the Province has taken over management of six long-term care homes, and now they’ve added a seventh. This new home is up the road in Kitchener where St. Mary’s Hospital is taking over Forest Heights Long Term Care, where over 200 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Long Term Care issued what’s called a Mandatory Management Order that turns over temporary management of Forest Heights to St. Mary’s for the next 90 days with an option to go beyond 90 days if necessary.
“The safety and well-being of residents and staff in long-term care have always been and will continue to be our number one priority,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care in a statement. “I am confident that the talented staff at St. Mary’s General Hospital and Forest Heights will work together to contain COVID-19 and stabilize the home.”
The president of St. Mary’s promised in her own statement that she will marshal the full resources of local hospitals, Waterloo Region Public Health, and provincial agencies to “ensure the continuity of care for residents is maintained and existing staff are supported in providing safe care.”
“The impact of COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging and heart-breaking for residents, families and the staff of Forest Heights,” explained Lee Fairclough. “We are committed to working closely with them to support and effectively manage the response to an outbreak that has proven very complex and difficult to control. We will continue to work alongside our hospital and system partners to enhance the health and well-being of our shared community.”
Late last week, Forest Heights was “red listed” for being a high risk location for people to catch COVID-19. According to the latest numbers from Waterloo Region Public Health, there are 244 people at Forest Heights who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including 175 residents and 69 staff members; 51 people have died from COVID-19 at the facility.
“This is a very, very large outbreak,” said Waterloo Region’s acting medical officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang at a media briefing on Friday (according to the CBC). “We’ve seen the outbreak over time come under better control and I think you’ve seen that with the numbers as well […] but we can’t let up in terms of the vigilance.”
By comparison, the long term car home with the second most number of cases in Waterloo Region is Trinity Village, where there have been 96 cases between residents and staff and 18 deaths. The outbreak Trinity Village was declared over on May 30 while Forest Heights is one of nine long term care homes in Waterloo Region where the outbreak is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, the last outbreak in a long term care home covered by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph was declared over on May 26.
Clearly there’s a public health need that surpasses the politics, but there are still political considerations here. One of Kitchener-Waterloo’s opposition MPPs were not pleased that it took the Government of Ontario so long to get hands on Forest Heights.
“While I am relieved to see the government is finally intervening this has taken far too long and too many residents, and their families, have suffered while this home has been neglected,” said Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo in a statement.
“Their loved ones have been sick with worry and anxiety for months now, and the stories I’ve heard about the inadequate care at this privately-owned facility have been harrowing,” Lindo added. “The lack of transparency and communication to families has only added to their pain. The frontline staff have been stretched to breaking point as they do their best without the support and the PPE they need to protect themselves and their residents.”