Faced with a situation that was quickly getting out of hand, with more than half its residents testing positive for COVID-19 and staff shortages making it difficult to care for them, Golden Links Lodge has asked for help.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, in a statement late Thursday night, said in response to the plea it had rushed in a two-person unit from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service to give immediate support overnight and assess the medical status of residents.
The WRHA also said it had deployed respiratory and community intravenous teams to help out.
One person has already been taken to hospital, while, as of Thursday night, 42 of the 81 residents there have tested positive for COVID-19.
On Friday morning, an ambulance was idling outside the doors of the independent, non-profit facility at 2280 St. Mary’s Rd. in St. Vital.
Marcy-Lynn Larner, the lodge’s CEO, said in an interview on Friday that staff shortages forced them to reach out for help.
"I’ve been here all night," Larner said. "It is more settled here now."
Asked if the situation was as dire as the one earlier this month at Maples Personal Care Home, Larner said "Oh God, no — that’s exactly why we called for people."
"I reached out... We’re struggling with staff and not able to fill a lot of the shifts.
"It has pushed us to a situation we’ve never been at before."
Earlier this month, Maples staff made multiple 911 calls asking for ambulances. When they arrived, first responders found two residents had already died and they had to help several residents on site who were deteriorating. In a 48-hour period, eight residents at the care home died and, as of earlier this week, public health officials said a total of 40 have died, with 143 residents and 64 staff testing positive for the virus.
Provincial public health officials announced the COVID-19 outbreak at Golden Links Lodge on Nov. 13.
Officials confirmed Wednesday that three people at the facility had died, two men in their 80s and a woman in her 90s.
Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management, confirmed WFPS attended Golden Links Thursday night and again Friday.
Four paramedics and a district chief of paramedic operations were at the facility between 7:19 p.m. and midnight. The crews completed full assessments of seven residents and observational assessments of all other residents.
The WFPS was again asked to visit the personal care home Friday morning. As of 1 p.m. Friday, crews were still on site and had assessed 22 residents, with none sent to hospital.
"I would say that what we saw there last night was based on some health-care aides that weren’t able to get into work," he said.
While he called the operation "well-organized" and said the WFPS would provide support for as long as possible, Shaw cautioned that sending paramedics at the request of the WRHA wasn’t a process that could be used regularly.
"It’s not sustainable, but I would also echo the comments of our provincial health leaders that have said none of this is sustainable... It’s not sustainable for our emergency rooms and our ICUs," Shaw said.
Personal care homes across the province are stretched thin as it is, Mayor Brian Bowman said.
"The problem and the challenge and the real concern is if we have a really bad night and the queuing is significant, that’s where folks’ safety is on the line," he said.
Bowman noted the WFPS had been highlighting sustainability concerns to the province for some time.
"We’re a contractor to the province, we have been trying to have some long-term stability and assurance from the province in the direction they want to go," he said.
WFPS is not currently stationing staff on standby at any other facilities.
Larner said they have also reached out to the Canadian Red Cross, which put personnel into Maples, to see if they can help Golden Links.
"They’ve done an assessment here and we are waiting to hear back," she said.
Larner said they’ve also asked the primary caregiver for every resident to think about coming to help their loved one.
"We know we have an incredibly strong family community here," she said. "We know they will come up with the challenge."
In a message to families, Larner said she knows "there is risk involved with this and we know that. We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t really need the help.
"We need support with sitting with your loved one, assisting with nourishment and meals, and providing companionship."
Larner said the facility would provide all family members who answer the call with full PPE.
"This is a big decision for families to make and we know this," she said.
"We love our residents and want all of them to pull through this horrible virus."
Erin Madden, a spokeswoman for the WFPS, said two paramedic units, with two paramedics in each, as well as a district chief of paramedic operations, were sent to Golden Links.
"Between 7:19 p.m. and midnight, the crews completed full assessments for six patients, and observational assessments on all residents in the facility," Madden said.
"This resulted in one patient being transported to hospital. This morning, WFPS was again asked to provide support and we currently have a paramedic crew there on standby."
Meanwhile, the WRHA said in a statement it has also reached out to other areas of the health-care system, including hospitals, to see if anyone will help with the staffing shortage at Golden Links. It has also granted an exemption allowing the facility to bring in staff from other personal-care homes.
The WRHA says it has had a clinical management lead on site since shortly after the outbreak there was declared.
"All steps are being taken to ensure the care and safety of residents and staff now, and throughout the duration of this outbreak," the WRHA said.
As of Nov. 18, 27 of Winnipeg’s 39 long-term care facilities have had COVID-19 outbreaks.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.