After COVID-19 outbreak in nursing home, families want mandatory vaccines for staff

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Even though Susan Asa-Katz’s mother is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the 92-year-old woman spent the last week in isolation in her bedroom after unvaccinated staff at her Thornhill, Ont., Nursing home contracted the virus.

A variant of concern was detected in two workers, resulting in an outbreak at Amica Thornhill in the Toronto area. At York Region Public Health, the 140 residents were ordered to self-isolate in their rooms for two weeks.

“It’s inhuman. We shouldn’t be doing this to people who are in the last years of their lives,” Asa-Katz said.

Now she and other family members are calling on the Ontario government to force long-term care workers and retirees to get vaccinated.

Rose Asa has resided at Amica Thornhill since 2019. Her daughter says she is very social and has moved into the house so that she can keep busy interacting with others. (Supplied / Susan Asa-Katz)

Once the residents of the home were vaccinated, they were allowed to socialize, eat in the dining room, and visit their families outside, but after the outbreak they were unable to leave. their room.

So, Asa-Katz stood outside the house and spoke to her mother on the phone, just to be closer. She said her mother goes through episodes of depression when she is unable to interact with others.

“When she was locked up she called me and said, ‘Why do I have to be here? Why can’t I join your father [who has died]? ‘”, she said, crying.

WATCH | Families share their concerns while loved ones were isolated:

Families share concerns as loved ones were isolated

Family members of Amica Thornhill residents say they want the Ontario government to mandate staff vaccines after unvaccinated workers contract COVID-19. 0:50

Even with the high vaccination rate among residents, long-term care homes and retirement homes continue to follow provincial guidelines for outbreaks put in place before vaccine availability, which may include isolating residents. and cancellation of non-essential tours and activities.

Family members and Amica Thornhill have called on public health to ease some restrictions on residents. About a week after the start of the epidemic, it does. Now, only three residents have to stay in their room because they are not fully vaccinated. The others have resumed external visits and can participate in the programming of the corridors while being distanced and masked, but they still have to eat alone in their room.

Families say this is an improvement, but they are still concerned about the current and future restrictions.

“All we need is someone else to come down [with COVID-19] again and then they’re going to be locked out, ”Asa-Katz said.

She and other family members say the mandatory vaccines would prevent this.

As Barb Horowitz isolated in her bedroom due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among unvaccinated staff at the nursing home, her grandson Josh Horowitz passed by to wave at her from outside. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

“I think if you work in a healthcare facility and take care of people and this is the job that you are committed to in life, you should absolutely get 100% vaccinated,” said Josh Horowitz. , whose grandmother lives in Amica Thornhill.

Ontario Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton told CBC Toronto it would be constitutionally difficult to require vaccines.

“It’s not like medication or wearing a protective mask,” she said. “It’s a procedure.”

The health ministry has said it will not impose a warrant, but continues to encourage all staff to get vaccinated.

Barb Horowitz greets her grandson from her balcony at Amica Thornhill. He says that before regular activities at the retirement home were canceled, she enjoyed exercise classes, movie and trivia nights, and playing cards with friends. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

At Amica Thornhill, 99% of residents received their first dose of vaccine and 97% received their second. Of the staff, 83 percent have received their first vaccine and 74 percent are fully immunized, although more have signed up.

Horowitz said his grandmother’s mental and physical health deteriorated due to the cancellation of activities and tours.

“They were promised that as soon as they are vaccinated, life will return to normal for them and they have just been lied to.”

Households operating according to pre-vaccination rules in the event of an epidemic

In Ontario, 74 percent of long-term care staff received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 98 percent of residents, according to the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

The Department of Seniors and Accessibility says more than 97 percent of nursing home residents have received their first injection. The Department of Health did not provide the number of retirees vaccinated before publication.

York Region Medical Officer of Health Dr Karim Kurji said of the nine recent outbreaks among the area’s outbreaks, seven involved unvaccinated workers.

“The good news is that luckily it doesn’t seem to be penetrating the residents,” he told CBC Toronto.

Amica Thornhill says she is pursuing a vaccine education campaign, which includes one-on-one sessions for staff who may be hesitant or have questions. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

Fullerton said even though residents are vaccinated, it’s about balancing the risks. It highlights outbreaks in long-term care homes in British Columbia where fully vaccinated residents have still contracted the virus, although their symptoms are milder and transmission less aggressive.

“This virus has the capacity to overtake us at times and we have to be vigilant and careful,” she said.

York Region Public Health said provincial guidelines for managing outbreaks in homes are being updated to reflect current immunization status, but it is important that homes remain vigilant.

“Despite the fact that they have been immunized, they may not be fully protected,” Dr Kurji said of the residents. “I think the next few weeks will tell us more once we know a bit more about how the variant behaves.”

Amica staff tested positive before scheduled vaccines

Amica Thornhill said that since the vaccines were made available to staff in December, four fully unvaccinated workers have tested positive.

The two staff who triggered the outbreak opted out of the vaccine at first, but changed their minds, Amica Thornhill said. They fell ill before their scheduled vaccination.

As of March 24, two staff and no residents were infected with COVID-19.

Amica said she continues to conduct a vaccine education campaign for hesitant staff.

Protection Required During Influenza Outbreaks

On the flu side, some of the largest long-term care and retirement facilities in Ontario, including Chartwell and Sienna Living, do not allow staff who have not been vaccinated against the flu to work with residents during an outbreak.

They are only allowed to return after the outbreak is over, or if they have taken an oral antiviral medicine like Tamiflu, which is used to treat and prevent the flu.

The guideline is recommended, but not enforced by the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

Currently, there is no oral medication to protect against COVID-19.

Personal support worker Michael Gellizeau receives his COVID-19 vaccine from nurse practitioner Victoria Pierri at a vaccination clinic for nursing home workers hosted by the University Health Network in Toronto on December 15, 2020. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

Toronto-based family physician and vaccine researcher Dr. Iris Gorfinkel says the province should require all healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We have a moral obligation not to infect people and not to make them sick,” she said. “I think patients can reasonably expect themselves and their loved ones to be safe in healthcare facilities.”

Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said an argument can be made that the vaccine requirement violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“[It’s] a form of prescription for medical treatment. And it’s an amazing thing to do, ”she said.

An article published last month in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association argues that it is legally permissible to require healthcare workers to be vaccinated as a working condition, with few exceptions.

“If you choose not to be vaccinated, then [our findings say] you should be placed in a part of the workplace where you weren’t in front of patients, or you should just take those days off during an outbreak, ”said co-author Bryan Thomas, senior research associate with the University of Ottawa Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.


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