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“This is a marathon”: preparing LTC homes for the next wave of COVID-19

Smiling female nurse smiles at senior long-term care resident in wheelchair

When a case of COVID-19 turned into an outbreak at Orchard Villa last April, the home became one of the worst-hit long-term care (LTC) homes in Ontario. Seventy-eight residents in the Pickering home died and members of the Canadian military were called in to help.

Southbridge Care Homes, the organization that owns Orchard Villa and 36 other LTC and retirement homes, is now taking steps to avoid a similar tragedy during the next wave, by taking part in a new program developed by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI).

LTC+: Acting on Pandemic Learning Together is a program that uses learning webinars, national huddles and coaching to help LTC and retirement home staff focus on improvement in six key areas: preparation, prevention, people in the workforce, pandemic response and surge capacity, planning for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 care, and the presence of family. The goal is to bring LTC and retirement home teams from across the country together to share experiences and lessons learned in an effort to minimize the impact of the next wave of COVID-19.

The LTC+ program is based on learnings from a recent CFHI/CPSI report examining the care practices in LTC and retirement homes that experienced outbreaks. 

The CMA Foundation granted $2 million to the CFHI to support the LTC+: Acting on Pandemic Learning Together program, doubling the current funds available for the program and allowing more LTC homes to access the resources. Learn more


Taking stock of strengths and weaknesses

Educating staff is just one component of the LTC+ program. In her role as Chief Seniors’ Advocate and Strategic Partnerships Officer, Candace Chartier completed a “self-assessment” for Orchard Villa — a checklist that helps LTC and retirement homes identify their strengths and areas to improve —  to prepare a pandemic plan to deal with future waves. LTC and retirement homes that complete a self-assessment are eligible to access up to $10,000 in funding for improvements as well as coaching.

Chartier listed several areas that could help strengthen preparedness at Orchard Villa: testing and screening procedures for COVID-19, steps for informing staff of suspected cases, and new innovative technologies to make infection prevention and control more proactive and efficient. She plans to use the program funding to purchase automatic hand sanitizer dispensers; automated, contactless temperature reading stations that will be placed at entrances, exits and outside key resident and staff rooms; and remote sensors to track patients moving between COVID and non-COVID zones.

“We didn’t have the funding to do that, so we’re really excited,” says Chartier. “Those few little steps can make a difference in a home so devastated by COVID.”


A platform for sharing and interaction

The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in Ottawa is also using the LTC+ program to improve its pandemic preparedness. As one of Ontario’s largest LTC homes, with 450 beds and 900 staff, it faced many challenges at the outset of the pandemic: a number of asymptomatic staff tested positive for the virus — which led to staffing shortages — and the facility had to find a balance between maintaining residents’ quality of life and reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 within the home.

“All of the changes and restrictions caused distress for residents and a significant amount of moral distress for the staff,” says Jen Plant, the director of clinical practice.

Looking to strengthen your pandemic preparedness? 

The LTC+ program is supporting homes to quickly implement changes through a series of training webinars, national huddles, coaching and funding. LTC teams from across Canada share lessons learned and support each other. 

Learn how to join 

Plant and her colleagues took part in LTC+ webinars focusing on preparedness and the challenges of restrictive family presence policies. Through these sessions, they connected with other LTC homes that faced similar pressures and learned how in-person information sessions were being used to better educate families about visitor policies.  Plant says the success in these homes has the Perley Rideau rethinking their approach.

“That is a source of inspiration and we can learn from their experience. Having this expertise at your fingertips is extremely valuable.” – Jen Plant, The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre


The “right time” for this kind of support

So far in New Brunswick, all 68 of its nursing homes have been COVID-free, thanks in part to staff screening and a government directive forcing homes to close their doors to visitors in mid-March.

In addition, weekly team huddles with homes across the province ensured staff had the most up-to-date information and best practices.

“Having the opportunity to share our successes and struggles helped,” says Julie Weir, the assistant director of care and innovation at the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.

“We were supporting one another, but also saying ‘we tried these thermometers and they weren’t accurate, so don’t buy them.’”

Now, through the LTC+ program, Weir can access similar huddles and share lessons learned at a national level.

“What can we learn from BC and Alberta or Ontario and Quebec that we haven’t figured out in New Brunswick?” – Julie Weir, New Brunswick Assoc. of Nursing Homes

After presenting her association’s pandemic plan at one of the LTC+ huddles in September, Weir found many homes are having similar struggles — such as reintegrating family members — so it makes sense to work together on similar approaches.

She says the CFHI/CPSI  program couldn’t have come at a better time to prepare homes for a second wave of the pandemic.

“In March, nobody had time for a webinar or a national huddle, but now we do. We’re all in this together and nobody’s got it figured out, but we can help one another along.”


About the author(s)

Originally established in 2005, the CMA Foundation is a registered charity, designated as a private foundation, whose sole member is the Canadian Medical Association. Its purpose is to provide impactful charitable giving to registered Canadian charities and qualified donees to further excellence in health care.

Profile Photo of The CMA Foundation staff