Northern Health placing COVID-19 patients next to long-term care facility

There are now 22 outbreaks of the COVID-19 respiratory disease reported at long-term care facilities in B.C. In northeast B.C., health authorities say the most critically-ill patients will be treated at the Fort St. John Hospital, which is connected to the Peace Villa care home.

There were 1,174 infections and 35 deaths reported in B.C. as of April 3; and of those, 176 infections and 24 deaths have been reported at care homes. 

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In northern B.C., there have been 21 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported, and four people are currently in hospital across the region. 

Northern Health public health officials said Friday they will not release specifics of case locations and hospitalizations. Officials said only that there are cases in communities across the north, including the Northeast local health area, and in both large and small communities.

Here’s what Cathy Ulrich, CEO of Northern Health, and Acting Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Raina Fumerton had to say about placing and treating COVID-19 patients next to Peace Villa:

Cathy Ulrich, CEO, Northern Health: “In all of our our long-term care facilities, we have absolutely restricted access to those long-term care facilities. Peace Villa is a separate building; there’s a link, but it is a separate building, separate air handling, to the hospital, and there is restricted access from one building to the other. 

“We’ve restricted, also, visitors to all of our long-term care facilities and we’ve worked with our staff in the long-term care facilities around how they protect themselves, and not to come to work if they’re not feeling well.

“We’ve also put in place the guidelines that the province has put in place around personal protective equipment within the long-term care environment. We also have processes in place around admissions to long-term care facilities, and processes that we’ve put in place to ensure the safety of the residents within those environments.”

Dr. Raina Fumerton, Acting Chief MHO: “For long-term care facilities, given we know that’s one of our highest risk of vulnerable populations, they also have a very low thresholds for testing, and long-term care residents and staff are high priority for testing if they become symptomatic. We have a very solid long-term care facility outbreak protocol, we have teams ready to be deployed to help manage an outbreak if it occurs.

"To date, we’re fortunate to be able to say we don’t have any outbreaks in any of our Northern Health long-term care facilities. And important information around that is that we actually, for COVID-19, consider a single staff or resident case an outbreak — and we have no outbreaks in our long-term care facilities.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry could not be reached for comment during her daily public health briefing on Friday afternoon.

Dr. Henry has, however, issued orders that have banned health care workers from working at more than one long-term care facility, and require care home operators, including health authorities, to submit staff information to health officials.

Here is what CEO Ulrich had to say about the implementation of those orders:

CEO Ulrich: “What the first step in implementing that order is, across the province, is for the Health Employers Association of BC to collate all of the people who work within the health care system across the province.

“As you may know, in the Lower Mainland there’s lot of non-profit and for-profit organizations that operate long-term care facilities and it is a whole lot more challenging in the south to know where people work.

“In the north, all but one of our long-term care facilities are operated by Northern Health, so we do know who our staff are, and where they’re working each day. So, there’s some variation in how that order will be implemented across the province.”

So does that mean workers are now just working at one facility?

CEO Ulrich: “That’s work that’s underway, in terms of analyzing that at a provincial level. So, we’ll be getting more clear direction on that provincially over the course of the next few days.”

There have been more than 850 people tested for COVID-19 so far in northern B.C., barely a fraction of the 47,352 tests completed to date, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. 

The province says testing is priority for health care workers, for those hospitalized or likely to be hospitalized, and as part of an investigation of an outbreak.

Here’s what CEO Ulrich and MHO Dr. Fumerton had to say when asked how many doctors and nurses in Northern Health have been tested, and how many have tested either positive or negative:

CEO Ulrich: “Health care workers are certainly one of the priorities for testing. I don’t think we would be giving you information about the number of positives or negatives. I can tell you that anybody who is tested and is tested positive will be handled like any other individual, and will be provided with the support to self-isolate.”

Dr. Fumerton: “I think you’ve summarized it very well, Cathy.”

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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