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Nursing home hit hard by COVID-19 coping with challenges

Managing director of Norfolk Manor would like to see hospitals be able to assign staff to nursing homes and long-term care facilities when needed
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Norfolk Manor is one of several area institutions dealing with outbreaks. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

One of the hardest hit care facilities in the region is doing what it can in challenging times.

David Ing, managing director of the family-owned Norfolk Manor retirement home in Guelph, said his staff is overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, but focused on caring for the patients first and foremost.

Norfolk Manor has one of the most serious outbreaks in the area, with 22 residents and four staff testing positive for COVID-19. Of the eight institutions currently dealing with an outbreak, only Shelburne Residen in Shelburne has more (27 residents and six staff) in Wellington-Dufferin-Guielph Public Health’s coverage area.

The numbers alone create anxiety.

“Then you have healthcare workers that are kissing their loved ones in the morning and  stepping straight in the lion’s den hoping that their training and available PPE will keep them safe,” Ing said.

“Now add all the information being broadcast from every agency multiple times a day. It’s complete overload.”

While much of the early focus on preparedness was on hospitals in Canada, preparing for an onslaught of patients that thankfully has yet to materialize, it turns out that care facilities have been the most serious hit: an older, often health-compromised group living in close proximity to one another.

“Hospitals are fully staffed awaiting the onslaught as we have seen in China and Italy, and yet the brunt of the cases are in retirement homes like ours and in long-term care facilities,” Ing said.

At one point Norfolk Manor had to put a call out on Facebook looking for additional staff: nurses and personal support workers.

“Many of my staff just shrugged their shoulders and said OK let’s get to it and then others choose to stay at home for lots of reasons – age, living with vulnerable family members – and some were just unable to deal with the mounting fear,” Ing said.

He said there were some staffing concerns early on but Public Health and the province have been digesting information and making adjustments, which has had a positive impact.

Ing said two nurses answered their call for help and have been a welcome addition. 

“We have now had almost all our staff tested and are awaiting the results. If we have been doing things right then  I am hopeful that we will all come back negative.

“We are also at the stage of retesting several residents who have been asymptomatic for some time and are  optimistic that our folks at Norfolk Manor are on the mend.”

As for PPE for staff, he said that while there is still a shortage of PPE provincially, locally his facility  has had “tremendous support” from the Guelph Family Health Team and Guelph General Hospital.

A local doctor also lent them a non-contact thermometer until they were able to get their own.

“Other members of our community have provided us with 3D printer face shields, brought in N95 masks they found in their cupboards ... some have made cloth face masks, ear savers and head covers,” he said, calling the community help “amazing.”

“We are exercising PPE conservation where possible and so far our supplies are stable and hopefully our need is decreasing.”

 Ing said he would like to see the province give hospitals permission to re-assign staff as they see fit to support retirement homes and long-term care facilities.

“This would increase the expertise across the board in the long-term care facilities during this time of crisis and hopefully keep folks out of the hospitals and by doing so maintain our capacity in hospitals,” Ing said.

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