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

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Kristian Camero and Jessica Wood, seen here, co-own The Black Cauldron with Stephen Barton. The new Nelson restaurant opened earlier this month while indoor dining is restricted by the province. Photo: Tyler Harper
A restaurant opens in Nelson, and no one is allowed inside

The Black Cauldron opened while indoor dining is restricted in B.C.

These two city-owned houses on Railway Avenue in the Railtown district will be sold. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
City of Nelson will sell two derelict houses in Railtown

Purchasers will be responsible for demolition and slope stability issues

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read