Much of the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been focused on keeping the most vulnerable among us safe from this virus – especially our patients in acute care and our long-term care residents.
Visitor restrictions were put in place in March in acute and long-term care as part of a provincial public health order, with exceptions for those visiting for compassionate reasons. Fewer people in our facilities meant fewer chances for the virus to come in and spread among residents.
We instituted checks on our staff before, during and after their shifts to ensure no one was coming to work sick. We asked they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for our long-term care residents, again to ensure the safety of those we care for.
Then in April came staff cohorting – ensuring that staff working in one long-term care home were not working in any others. Consistent staff in each facility meant fewer chances for the virus to spread from one care home to another, in case of an outbreak.
These safety measures were necessary, but have been difficult for our residents. While keeping them safe, we did our best to connect each one with their families and loved ones virtually or through safe window visiting, or later, outdoor visits. Staff showed their creativity and innovation by finding more ways for residents to keep active – mentally and physically – while maintaining physical distance from each other, to minimize risk of infection. And we did our best to connect with patients despite the impersonal impression of our PPE.
Thanks to a generous donation of iPads from Computers For Schools (CFS), long term care residents at Balcarres Integrated Care Centre participate in regular virtual visits with family and friends. Above, June Betham enjoys connecting virtually with her granddaughter and great grandchildren.
“We very much appreciate the patience our residents and their families have shown throughout this time, as well as the help many have given us to work through everything for everyone’s safety,” noted Suann Laurent, Chief Operating Officer for the SHA.
Residents at Pineview Terrace, a long-term care home in Prince Albert, taking on the Pineview Pursuit, a challenge set up by staff to entertain residents during COVID-19.
“While we know no strategy is perfect and there are areas we can strengthen, we also know our efforts have made a big difference because we have been able to avoid the kind of unimaginable devastation that has struck long-term care homes in other provinces,” said Scott Livingstone, Chief Executive Officer of the SHA. “Right now, there are zero cases of COVID-19 in our long-term care homes. With continued diligence, our staff are working hard to do everything in their power to ensure this continues.”
One of the reasons these strategies worked is their quick implementation; one of the reasons they were able to be implemented so quickly is because of the responsiveness of health care workers and the existence of a single health authority in Saskatchewan.
“If this had happened in Saskatchewan prior to the formation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, when we had 12 different health regions, each with their own policies and procedures, instituting these changes on a provincial level would have been complicated, simply because of the independent way each health region operated,” says Livingstone. “A single health authority means we can issue directives for every care home in the province under our jurisdiction – those we run directly, and those affiliated with the SHA. The decision to institute changes is made once – not 12 times. This reduces variation and ensures all decisions are in line with best practices and the latest available evidence.”
Instituting all the changes prompted by the SHA’s COVID-19 response has not been easy, and have been up to front-line staff to adopt.
“I have to commend the staff in our long-term care facilities for everything they have done over the past few months, and thank all our affiliates who have been working with us to understand and adapt these guidelines within their own operations,” said Livingstone. “Together, everyone has been accommodating significant changes in policies and procedures with grace and understanding, and have gone above and beyond to keep our residents safe and happy. I am impressed by our long-term care staff at all times; but particularly with how they have responded to the challenges COVID-19 has presented to us.”
After enjoying a full afternoon of pampering, Langenburg Centennial Care Home resident Sherry Scobie showcases the end result of her salon makeover and photoshoot. The photoshoot was part of Mother’s Day activities for residents of the home.
Last week, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a careful, safe approach to allowing the loved ones of long-term care residents to visit indoors once again. There are still restrictions – just two family members or support persons can be identified, and just one present in the facility at one time, and they will have to follow safety requirements, including wearing a medical grade mask, physical distancing, hand hygiene and limited movement in the home.
This approach keeps safety of our most vulnerable at top of mind, while supporting the mental and emotional well-being of our long-term care residents at the same time.