Health authorities seize Vancouver care home for Chinese elders where 41 died in Covid-19 tragedy

21-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Health authorities in Vancouver are seizing control of the assets and operations of a troubled care home catering mostly to Chinese elders, where 41 residents died in a catastrophic Covid-19 outbreak that began almost a year ago.

The pandemic had exposed “issues” at the charitable Little Mountain Residential Care and Housing Society, which has owned and operated Little Mountain Place in East Vancouver since 1987, said the president of the society’s board, Bob Breen, in a statement released by the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) authority late Tuesday.

In coming months, VCH would take over all society assets, including Little Mountain Place and its Adanac Park Lodge and Little Mountain Court sister facilities, the statement said.

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The outbreak at Little Mountain Place by far the deadliest in British Columbia was the subject of an extensive investigation by the South China Morning Post, which reported how it was triggered by an infected employee, then spiralled out of control when other staff fell sick too but continued to come to work.

Eighty-seven per cent of residents became infected and 36 per cent died as the disease tore through the facility during a 10-week outbreak that began in mid-November 2020.

“The pandemic has shone a light on issues that exist at Little Mountain Residential Care and Housing Society, which include a limited ability to attract and provide growth opportunities for staff and insufficient access to support services like finance, human resources and general administrative support,” said Breen.

“This is a move that has not been made lightly but one that will ensure greater stability and resources to provide the best possible care for residents.”

According to its 2019 budget, the society had assets worth C$18.95 million (US$15.3 million), and annual expenditures of about C$16 million (US$12.9 million).

More than three quarters of its funding was provided by VCH, a regional health operator under the provincial ministry of health.

“VCH is in the process of securing the necessary approvals, consulting with relevant stakeholders, and completing customary due diligence,” said the statement.

Grieving families demand accountability

Bernadette Cheung’s grandmother, 94-year-old Hong Kong immigrant Yuet Wan, died of Covid-19 at Little Mountain Place last December.

Cheung applauded the takeover as “recognition that Little Mountain Place was really poorly managed”.

“But I wonder now where this will leave people who have been trying to pursue accountability over what happened,” said Cheung, an accountant.

She said some families were investigating legal action over the outbreak and questioned whether the transfer was in response to this possibility.

Rose Wong is also among Little Mountain Place relatives who have complained about a lack of accountability over the tragedy.

She continues to undergo counselling over the death of her mother, Cui Chan Wong.

The last time she saw her mother, Rose Wong was clad head to toe in PPE gear as she said her final goodbyes to the 73-year-old native of Taishan, China.

“I’m still grieving over her,” said Wong, who spoke to the Post before the takeover announcement.

The Post had asked VCH on Tuesday morning whether care home managers had been fired or quit over the handling of outbreaks at facilities including Little Mountain Place. The press release was issued after 5pm.

A long-awaited investigation into Covid-19 outbreaks in BC care homes that was released on October 6 had provided some answers about what went wrong at Little Mountain Place and elsewhere.

The investigation by the BC government’s Office of the Seniors Advocate (OSA) produced a slate of seven recommendations: increased paid sick leave, increased staff directly involved in care, decreased use of contract workers, increased hiring of registered nurses, increased Covid-19 testing, elimination of shared rooms, and requiring vaccination of all staff with booster shots provided to residents.

The vaccine mandate for staff was implemented on October 12, while third shots for residents are currently being rolled out.

But the OSA report did not mention any individual care homes where Covid-19 spread like wildfire.

Admit your faults. That’s the only way that they will know how to improve

Rose Wong, whose mother died of Covid-19 at Little Mountain PLace

“How can they not mention specific cases? I don’t like how it is just generalised… it’s like they don’t want to point the finger at any particular facility,” said Wong, also an accountant.

“Admit your faults. That’s the only way that they will know how to improve.”

The OSA report analysed 365 outbreaks at 210 BC long-term care and assisted living sites between March 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021, in which more than 800 lives were lost. More than 6,500 workers were surveyed anonymously for the report.

BC fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic in spring 2020, earning worldwide attention for its low infection numbers, but the second wave that emerged last fall resulted in numerous large-scale deadly outbreaks in care homes.

These tapered off as care home residents were vaccinated. Nevertheless, there are now at least 17 ongoing outbreaks in BC long-term care facilities, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, as the province grapples with the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Overall, the OSA report found that in 76 per cent of outbreaks, the first infection involved a staff member. Forty per cent of all workers reported coming to work at least once when they were feeling sick.

Those findings echoed the Post’s investigation into Little Mountain Place, based on leaked Zoom meetings between relatives and regional health officers.

The outbreak exploded when multiple infected staff tried to “push through” their symptoms, in the words of one officer. Seventy-two staff contracted Covid-19.

In her October 6 press conference, Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said her office’s investigation was “not the definitive review of Covid-19 in long-term care and assisted living” in BC.

She indicated her support for further investigations, saying she expected to see “these issues probed more deeply in the future”.

Instead, the OSA report focused on “outcomes and how we can control them”, she said.

The report noted that regional health officers who managed the outbreaks declined requests to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

“Medical Health Officers and public health staff who were involved in the management of LTC/AL outbreaks were invited to participate in interviews (June and July 2021), but were unable to participate due to urgent pandemic-related responsibilities,” the report said in its appendix.

Angela Millar, the former executive director of Little Mountain Place, could be seen sobbing in the leaked Zoom videos as she described the deadly toll the outbreak was exacting on residents last December.

She resigned in February in the wake of the outbreak, and could not be reached for comment.

At least one class-action lawsuit over the handling of the BC’s long-term care outbreaks is in the works. Vancouver law firm Slater Vecchio is trying to recruit residents and relatives of residents at 11 care homes that suffered severe outbreaks, including Little Mountain Place.

James Richards, a partner in the firm, said it was “still in the investigation phase”, and he could not comment further.

Wong said she did not want to join a lawsuit. Instead, she wanted management of care facilities to be held answerable for mistakes that rested “not just with the staff, or the residents. It came from the top”.

“I just want the world to know how badly it was run… My mom died. Money won’t bring back her life,” Wong said.

Cheung said questions about the loss of her grandmother still lingered.

“We’re doing a lot better now,” said Cheung. “Time heals… But are the care homes that did really poorly in the second wave going to get investigated? We still don’t really know.”


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