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Coronavirus: Long-term care still struggling as Omicron wave levels

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Coronavirus: Long-term care still struggling as Omicron wave levels

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OTTAWA – It’s hard to forget the tragic scenes that unfolded in long-term care homes across the country at the start of the pandemic as residents died by the thousands, isolated from their loved ones.

While vaccines played a major role in protecting homes from the same deadly toll the first wave of COVID-19 took on residents, the impact was still profound during the Omicron wave.

“It’s staggering when you just look at the number of homes affected by the outbreak,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research at the National Institute on Aging.

“It’s so sad to consider that over the past few weeks we’ve lost over 300 residents and how ruthless this pandemic has been, especially for the people living in our retirement and long-term care homes. duration.”

More than 34% of Canada’s 6,029 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak, according to the latest figures from the NIA.

That’s twice as many homes as the second-highest peak in long-term care outbreaks, when 1,000 homes were infected last January, Sinha said.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the number of outbreaks has continued to rise since the Omicron wave first hit in mid-December.

And in the past few days alone, Canada has marked the 16,000th death in long-term care since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has also severely restricted the already understaffed sector as home-based workers have fallen ill and had to self-isolate.

This has led to concerns about the level of care remaining for residents and the potential for suffering and death for residents who do not have the virus.

“It’s very serious what’s happening,” said Carole Estabrooks, scientific director of the Pan-Canadian Research Translation Program in Elder Care at the University of Alberta.

The latest wave has also reignited fears about restrictive isolation measures, Estabrooks said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Research is beginning to show the heavy toll the prolonged isolation has taken on residents, Estabrooks said.

“It’s causing deterioration and weakening. Some preliminary reports suggest there’s been excess mortality, excess death rates, because of the isolation,” she said.

Isolation is especially harmful for dementia patients, who make up the largest population in long-term care, because they rely so heavily on routines, human connections and familiar faces, she said.

Most homes still allow a designated support person, usually a close family member, to visit the home even when other movement in and out of homes is restricted.

But it’s one of the few gains made since the first wave, aside from vaccines, said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care researcher and associate professor of criminology at Ontario Tech University.

“Those are really the only two things that have changed significantly in long-term care. Everything else has been a disaster,” Stamatopoulos said.

Several efforts have been made across the country to improve the state of long-term care through new and proposed legislation at the federal and provincial levels.

New national standards are currently being developed to try to shape what good long-term care should look like in Canada.

But the results of this work could take months or even years.

Still, some provinces have fared better than others, Sinha said. NIA data shows that British Columbia has done a better job of reducing infections than others, for example, he said.

“It feels like they’ve made progress in terms of applying lessons learned,” he said.

Some provinces have also been more diligent than others in providing booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable long-term care residents and staff, he said, which has made a difference. .

“It really shows that COVID will not forgive, especially if you let your guard down,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 28, 2022.

Coronavirus: Long-term care still struggling as Omicron wave levels

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