Highland Wood family council chair Trina West said it was hard at first to connect with her mother in the long-term care home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would see her every day, and then all of a sudden, you’re just cut off cold,” West said.
“They set up the ability to video chat with her, so that was very helpful because that way, I could actually see she was okay and provide some relief. But with all the unfortunate goings-on with the other long-term care homes, you do nothing but worry.”

Local long-term cares homes have implemented additional safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their vulnerable residents. So far, they have been successful, with no cases reported in those homes. But outbreaks have appeared in 93 long-term care homes across the province, including the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, which has had 29 deaths to date.

Haliburton Highlands Health Services CEO Carolyn Plummer said they have been proactive in their response, including active screening and taking the temperature of staff before shifts, wearing masks well before it was mandated by the Ministry of Health and reducing or eliminating instances of staff working across long-term care sites or between hospitals and long-term care. Staff are also changing clothes when they come into work, including shoes.

Directors of care for Highland Wood, Michelle Douglas, and Hyland Crest’s April DeCarlo, assured families April 6 that they are also screening new admissions to the facility and isolating them for 14 days as a precaution. Residents also have their temperatures taken twice daily.

“Please know that our staff and management team will continue to take every possible step to protect residents during this distressing time,” Douglas and DeCarlo said.

One issue that emerged at Pinecrest was its size. CBC News reported there was not enough space to separate sick residents into different rooms from healthy ones until some had passed away.

But that is not an issue at HHHS, Plummer said.

“Our homes are set up a bit differently from Pinecrest Nursing Home. We have the ability to separate and isolate residents if the need arises,” she said.

Extendicare Haliburton declined a request for an interview but released a message April 7 detailing its response to COVID-19, including screening for staff and residents, limited entry and wearing protective equipment.

“The care and safety of our residents, clients, patients, team members and families are our top priority,” Extendicare national director of infection prevention and control Lyn Fabricius said in a letter. “We take the COVID-19 situation very seriously and we are following Public Health Authority directives to ensure everyone’s safety.”

West commended HHHS staff for their efforts.

“The family members of the residents want to express their deep and sincere appreciation to the staff for their service and for taking such good and loving care of their residents,” West said. “It is truly remarkable and clearly evident how much these people care, and we want to acknowledge that and express our gratitude to each and every one of them.” (With files from Lisa Gervais)

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