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

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dancers, signholders show support for Fairy Creek in Victoria

A flash mob at the legislature and signs on an overpass

Wild Wise Sooke is urging the public to be bear aware. (Photo by Brian Rundle)
Wild Wise Sooke reminds public to be aware of bears

Residents asked to be mindful of their garbage habits, not to draw in wildlife

Staff celebrate the opening of the Vancouver Island Cancer Centre adjacent to Royal Jubilee Hospital in March 2001. (Photo provided by Provincial Health Services Authority)
Victoria cancer centre marks two decades of saving lives

BC Cancer – Victoria is B.C.’s second largest cancer centre

“Racing Classics” by John Horton depicts sailboats near Trial Island off the coast of Oak Bay. The painting will be featured in his <em>Maritime Impressions</em> exhibit at the Winchester Gallery until April 14.
Greater Victoria galleries beckon spring with vibrant, whimsical nature scenes

At The Galleries: look at what’s on display this month

Katie Hamilton is one of three Victoria residents receiving a $10,000 podcast production grant from Telus Storyhive. Her podcast, Her Love of Sport, will take listeners through stories from women in the sports industry. (Courtesy of Katie Hamilton)
Three local podcasts coming to Victoria following Telus Storyhive grants

Victoria podcasts chosen out of 700 applications to receive $10,000

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dancers, signholders show support for Fairy Creek in Victoria

A flash mob at the legislature and signs on an overpass

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read