Bernadette Cheung poses for a photograph outside Little Mountain Place, where her grandmother, who passed away, was a resident, in Vancouver, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. An inspection of the long-term care home found staffing levels were low and cleaning was inadequate as the virus spread throughout the facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Bernadette Cheung poses for a photograph outside Little Mountain Place, where her grandmother, who passed away, was a resident, in Vancouver, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. An inspection of the long-term care home found staffing levels were low and cleaning was inadequate as the virus spread throughout the facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Staff shortage during B.C.’s deadliest COVID-19 care home outbreak: report

An inspection found staffing levels were low and cleaning was inadequate at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Place

An inspection of a long-term care home that was the site of British Columbia’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak found staffing levels were low and cleaning was inadequate as the virus spread throughout the facility.

The Vancouver Coastal Health inspection report obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request says these two issues were rectified while the outbreak was underway in Little Mountain Place.

Bernadette Cheung, whose grandmother died of COVID-19 at the facility along with 40 other residents, wants more answers, including details on how the staffing shortage and poor infection control potentially worsened the outbreak.

She filed a complaint that prompted the inspection on behalf of several family members who lost loved ones at the Vancouver care home. Cheung said she feels equally in the dark after receiving the report as she did before.

“I feel like the investigation was very much done just to check off a box, as opposed to properly finding out where the failures were and really digging into finding solutions and ensuring that families have some sort of peace that this is taken seriously,” she said.

Little Mountain Place referred questions to Vancouver Coastal Health. B.C.’s Health Ministry provided a statement on behalf of the health authority, which said there is an ongoing need to learn from the pandemic response, including in long-term care.

Right now, the ministry said it’s focused on addressing issues in care homes, including easing visitation restrictions after most staff and residents have been vaccinated.

“We’re learning every day, but there will certainly be a time for public reflection after this is all over.”

In a statement in January, the health authority said it worked closely with the care home to bring the outbreak under control, including by screening and testing staff and residents, promptly isolating cases and employing infection prevention and control practices.

The inspection report says a complaint was received on Jan. 6 and a site visit was conducted Jan. 11.

The inspector found when the COVID-19 outbreak was declared on Nov. 22, staffing coverage was sufficient. However, as more employees contracted COVID-19, staffing levels “fell below facility baseline,” which temporarily affected daily operations and staff ability to respond to families’ questions.

In response, Vancouver Coastal Health redeployed a significant number of staff to exceed the baseline requirements by 20 per cent, the report says, adding that most of the original staff returned to work and one-third of the redeployed health authority staff remained on site as of the inspection date.

The report does not say how many staff members the facility was missing, how long the understaffing persisted and how it affected the home’s ability to limit the spread of the virus. B.C. Centre for Disease Control figures show that 72 staff members contracted the virus over the course of the months-long outbreak. None died.

Cheung questioned what the point was of the “vague summary” of understaffing.

“I would imagine that these processes are in place to learn and understand where problems can occur and find maybe where the breakage point is in terms of understaffing,” she said.

The report also says that when the outbreak was declared, Vancouver Coastal Health monitored the facility closely for the rate of transmission and any areas of concern.

“Following this audit period, it was identified that the facility household team did not fully comprehend or implement the intended infection control/enhanced cleaning measures appropriately,” it says.

On Dec. 13, three weeks after the start of the outbreak, Vancouver Coastal Health deployed a specialized infection control cleaning team to the facility. Education was provided to the staff and regular audits of enhanced cleaning measures continue to be conducted on a regular basis, the report says.

Cheung said she’s frustrated that the focus appears to be on the cleaning team not knowing what to do, as opposed to management’s responsibility to train them.

She also took issue with the inspector’s finding about the care home’s communication. The inspector said families were sent letters regularly with updates on the status of the outbreak and weekly Zoom calls were held to answer their questions.

However, Cheung said two weeks passed before the first Zoom call, when families were shocked to hear there were already dozens of positive cases. During the calls, Cheung felt managers were evading questions.

“We felt like we were being kept in the dark,” she said.

In its previous statement, Vancouver Coastal Health said it takes all concerns raised by residents and families seriously and any allegations of insufficient care are fully investigated. It also said it shared written communications regularly, in addition to the Zoom calls, and doctors and staff followed up with families directly.

Cheung is still calling for a broader investigation of what went wrong at the care home, where ultimately 99 out of 114 residents tested positive. Cheung also wants to see an oversight board for care homes that exists outside of health authorities.

“I don’t feel like anyone has truly taken accountability for what has happened,” she said. “I get it. It’s a really challenging situation. But at the same time, as family members we would have appreciated forthcoming responses.”

B.C.’s seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, is working on a larger review of COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes, which she hopes to publish in July. She said of about 500 sites in B.C., 212 had outbreaks.

Of the sites that had outbreaks, most were contained to staff or a couple of residents. Therefore, her office plans to look at 25 or so of the worst outbreaks, including Little Mountain Place, to understand what went wrong.

The age and size of the buildings, whether residents had shared rooms or shared baths, staffing levels, sick-leave policies, infection control practices and the age and conditions of residents could all be factors, Mackenzie said.

Her office will also undertake a survey of care home staff in B.C. that will hopefully give insight into the training they received, she said.

Mackenzie said she expects the provincial government will face pressure from the public to implement her upcoming recommendations.

“One of the things that’s been very heartening has been that the public is very much getting behind the issue of improvements to long-term care,” she said.

“They now see what can happen, what does happen and they’ve said, ‘We need to do better. We need to make improvements.’ So, I think people will be listening and they will expect their governments to act.”

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

School District 83 trustees are leaning towards an option in the school district’s Long Range Facilities Plan that favours making Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus and Jackson campus (pictured) both Grade 9-12 schools. (Google maps image)
Letter: Two high school option for Salmon Arm will create ‘have, have not’ situation

Writer concerned with E5 option, says transparent talk about implications needed

Left, Elena Bruns (2015 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) and Leah Nash (2019 Rapattack Junior recruit/current Rapattack staff) in a helicopter on the Eagle Bluff Fire, August 2019. (Kamloops Fire Centre photo)
Salmon Arm students stick with wildfire fighting after junior Rapattack program

Junior Fire Crew program partners with Salmon Arm Secondary, develops students’ love for job

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Penticton Christian School. (Facebook)
COVID-19 exposure at South Okanagan independent school

The exposures are the latest in a quickly growing list in the Interior

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Vernon Secondary School. (Google Maps)
Case of COVID-19 at North Okanagan high school

VSS exposure announced late Friday, April 9

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Bart and Tracey Larson enjoying a Begbie Cream Ale. The couple have been together for 40 years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
The art of really good beer: Revelstoke brewery celebrates 25 years

Mt. Begbie Brewery owners Bart and Tracey Larson reflect on their company’s history

The Royal’s 1951 visit to Revelstoke. (Photo by Revelstoke Museum and Archives #17)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip visited Revelstoke – twice

The prince died April 9 at the age of 99

Most Read