Plans to deploy the Canadian Red Cross to help long-term care homes in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario turned into communications chaos this week when the release of an apparently incorrect list of homes left some fielding calls from concerned families.
“We needed to reassure our families that we do not need the Red Cross,” said Ginette Beaudin, administrator at St. Jacques Nursing Home in Embrun. The home, she said, was surprised to learn it was on a reported list of homes where the Red Cross was to be deployed.
It was one of several Ottawa and Eastern Ontario long-term care homes surprised to be on the list released by federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office to some members of the media over the weekend.
The administrator of one of the homes on the list said they were told by a provincial official that its release had been a “mix up.”
Provincial officials clarified Tuesday, saying that the province will finalize details over the coming days “and is determining which homes would benefit most from assistance from the Red Cross.”
St. Jacques Nursing Home has had just one COVID-19 positive case — a staff worker — this fall. Subsequent mass testing of residents and staff found no other cases. An outbreak declared there late last month is expected to be lifted in the next few days.
Beaudin said the home welcomes any help, but has daily support from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and is currently in good shape.
St. Jacques was not the only home with questions.
“We have not asked for assistance from the Red Cross, nor been contacted by the Red Cross about their offer of assistance,” said a spokesperson for Sienna Living, which operates Madonna Care Community. The Orléans long-term care home had one of the most severe outbreaks during the first wave of COVID-19. But, according to a spokesperson, it is currently stable and has one staff member who has tested positive.
Poor communications around the issue is likely adding to families’ stress during an already difficult time, said Grace Welch, of the Champlain Region Family Council Network.
Before families heard the Red Cross was going in, they thought everything was fine with their home, Welch said. Then the news broke.
“I would be in panic mode” if I heard that, she said.
“I am glad that the Red Cross is stepping in where homes are struggling, but I don’t understand why some homes weren’t contacted beforehand to assess the need. Good, timely communications will be essential during the second wave.”
The Red Cross, which was sent to Quebec long-term care homes during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, is being deployed to Eastern Ontario at the request of the Ontario government, according to Public Safety Canada. The request comes as outbreaks and deaths in long-term care homes across the province are rapidly increasing, raising concerns that Ontario’s long-term care sector — which took the brunt of the first wave of COVID-19 — will be just as hard-hit during the second wave. Ottawa has seen some of the largest, and deadliest, long-term care outbreaks in Ontario in recent weeks.