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We must improve personal care homes

 This article appeared in the Sou'Wester on Wednesday August 12: 

Personal care homes have been at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.  More than 80 per cent of deaths in Canada have been residents of personal care homes. 

It is expected there will be a second wave of COVID-19.  We need to be ready, as the recent rise in cases in Manitoba may be indicating the second wave has already begun.

 On June 23, I hosted an online forum called How do we prepare personal care homes for a second wave of COVID-19?   Panelists included Dot Sloik, an advocate of personal care home improvements form Portage la Prairie, Beverley Dueck, a former public relations consultant and myself.  All three of us have had close family members in personal care homes and considerable experience in dealing with concerns in personal care homes. 

We asked a number of important questions including:

- Do we need a rapid response team to respond when there is a COVID-19 infection in a personal care home?    

The answer is yes.  When a COVID-19 infection gets into a personal care home, often many staff and residents have to be isolated and/or quarantined quickly, leaving the home short of experienced staff. A well-trained provincial rapid response team could immediately fill the gaps and stop further spread of the infection. 

- What steps are needed to ensure the best possible physical health of personal care home residents?

The discussion focused on the need to improve current staffing and funding rates for personal care homes as has been shown to be required in a recent report from the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly.  This is also being promoted by Jan Legeros executive director of the Long Term and Continuing Care Association of Manitoba.   Emphasis was put on improved training and more emphasis on full time staff to provide stability for staff, and continuity for residents. 

- What steps are needed to ensure the best possible mental health of personal care homes residents?

Emphasis in the discussion focused on the need to change personal care homes to be more like homes and less like institutions.  Better understanding and training with respect to dementia is important, as is empathy in understanding the emotional needs of residents.  Older residents often remember events from earlier in their lives better than more recent ones, and sharing stories and memories from previous years is often a good way of relating to residents individually. 

- What steps are needed to ensure all personal care homes are implementing high standards of care and stewardship of residents?

No matter what rules, guidelines, and standards there are for personal care homes, enforcement and public accountability are needed to ensure they are followed.  Unannounced inspections with publicly reported results are needed.  Other jurisdictions use this method resulting in improved accountability and care.

- How do we balance access of family to residents with the safety of residents?

An important step would be allowing one or two close friends o family members who are providing care to go into personal care homes and help with the care of the residents.  It is workable provided such individuals are taking strong precautions with respect to COVID-19 infections and transmission. Thankfully this change was made subsequent to our Forum when Phase 4 of reopening was implemented. 

The full event can be watched on YouTube by clicking on this link.  


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