By Don Norman
In response to concerns raised by the community, The Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority has announced that family members will no longer be able to enter the facility.
“On April 17, we moved to restrict all family members from entering Sunnywood Manor,” said IERHA CEO, Ron Van Denakker. “We have put in place measures to provide temporary alternative staff care for individuals who were receiving family care.”
Van Denakker also said that management staff on site can exercise their professional judgement in granting exceptions to restrictions for compassionate reasons. “These criteria include recognition of the role of some residents’ family members in helping us ensure their loved one’s health and safety as well as that of other residents,” he said. “We will continue to grant these exceptions as we deem necessary given our responsibility to ensure residents’ care needs in a safe environment.”
The issue began heating up on social media a couple of weeks ago and the Advocate reached out to Ron Van Denakker to ask him about the situation at the personal care home. On April 9, Van Denakker responded, “COVID-19’s influence on the activities of our daily life has rightfully enhanced people’s concern over measures to protect those who are most vulnerable to complications from this virus,” he said.
In this initial response, he didn’t speak specifically to the situation at the Sunnywood PCH, but said that the only people entering any personal care home across the region to interact with residents are staff and a select few family members. He clarified that “in exceptional circumstances, where management teams have recognized that the care these individuals deliver to their family members is essential to these residents’ health and safety.”
According to Van Denakker, the family members who are allowed access are subject to the same screening process for symptoms of illness as staff when they enter a facility and they interact only with the individual resident they care for during their time in a personal care home.
“While maintaining residents’ health is the focus of a great number of policies and procedures that we have in place at Sunnywood Manor, COVID-19 has brought with it an enhanced need for precaution.”
He also provided a summary of some of the other precautionary measures we have adopted in personal care homes across the region:
- On March 14, we started advising families not to visit if they pose a health risk to families.
- On March 27, we advised that family member visitation to residents was suspended indefinitely and all outings into the community were suspended. We also suspended the delivery of any services or entertainment offered by community members in the personal care home.
- On April 1, we started screening staff members entering personal care homes to ensure they were not experiencing any symptoms of illness. We will soon be adding temperature checks into our staff screening process.
“We appreciate family and community members’ interest in the health and welfare of our most vulnerable residents in personal care homes,” said Van Denakker. “Now is the time for heightened concern. Our response to COVID-19 is ongoing and dynamic but we are steadfast in our work to address personal care home residents’ needs and keep them safe.”
Van Denakker’s comments mirror the provincial government’s line on PCHs. When asked about visitation policies at personal care homes, Lanette Siragusa, Provincial lead, health system integration, quality / chief nursing officer said that they do allow for exceptional circumstances for compassionate reasons. She said that it is difficult to draw a line in the sand because there are always exceptions to the rules. “I think on an individual case-by-case basis we have to use clinical judgement and be human about the situation.”
However, this still left the question of what was happening specifically at the Sunnywood PCH unanswered. The Advocate followed up on April 14 asking him to clarify the situation at Sunnywood specifically and to confirm if there was a resident being taken on excursions in the community (one of the major concerns that was brought to the Advocate’s attention) and if so, whether this was acceptable and also asking if he could speak to the specific precautions that are being taken with this patient to assure that no others are being put at risk?
Two days later, the RM of Alexander also followed suit. In a letter signed by Mayor Jack Brisco dated April 16, asking the following list of questions:
- What specific practices, policies and procedures have been implemented at the facility to protect the health of facility residents and the community at large? More specifically, are family visits being allowed at this time?
- Can you provide assurance that these practices, policies and procedures are adequate to ensure the safety of the community?
- Can you provide assurance to this Council and the community that these measures are being strictly enforced at this time?
On April 17, Van Denakker replied to the RM’s question saying, “please rest assured that the PCH meets all provincial PCH guidelines. We are also following all infection prevention and controls guidelines.” He also acknowledged that there were indeed two residents who retained visitors for compassionate reasons but (as mentioned above), all family visitation has now been suspended. “Due to staff and visitor concerns for their personal safety based on strong threats from community members, we sadly made the decision to suspend all visitors and will need to bring in two additional staff to look after two residents with significant needs,” his response read. Van Denakker also added that should this result in resident care concerns, they will consider activating the compassion clause again.
In an email to the Advocate, the RM of Alexander said they were satisfied with the outcome and Van Denakker’s response. “We appreciate the efforts made by the RHA to ensure the safety and well-being of our community.”
In a conversation with the Advocate later that afternoon, Van Denakker clarified his feelings about the episode. “I am saddened by what we had to do the other day (asking the two visitors not to come),” he said. “Those visitors were providing wonderful care for a couple of really high need residents. We had those folks there to look after those residents and keep them calm.”
“We did everything in our power to provide a safe environment for all of the residents,” Van Denakker explained. “I would never sacrifice the safety of one resident over another. These people were provided with the same instructions and same protective equipment when required that staff would and they followed the procedures.”
He said it was out of fear for the safety of his staff and those visitors that he felt forced to make the decision to restrict all visits to Sunnywood. “Some of the responses on social media were really quite aggressive,” said Van Denakker. “So, out of an abundance of caution for visitors and my staff, we did ask those visitors to no longer come,” he continued. “I do appreciate the fact that there’s fear in the community,” he said. “It is one thing to be fearful but another to be that aggressive.”