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Six deaths in Barry's Bay nursing home linked to COVID-19

An outbreak of the latest variant of COVID-19 that resulted in six deaths at a small long-term care facility in Barry’s Bay has officially been declared over as of August 10.

An outbreak of the latest variant of COVID-19 that resulted in six deaths at a small long-term care facility in Barry’s Bay has officially been declared over as of August 10.

Valley Manor Inc. is a private, non-profit, 90 bed long term care facility that is regulated under the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, and its chief executive officer (CEO), Trish DesLaurier, said although they lifted some of the restrictions that were put in place after the first case was diagnosed on July 18, she said all the residents, staff, volunteers and the community at large have been affected by the sudden and deadly emergence of the newest variant of the original COVID-19 Virus.

“I am praying that we never have to go through this again,” she said.  “This is an example of why we have such strict regulations. It went through the building so fast.”

With a population of just over 1,200, the sudden death of six residents in three weeks had a profound effect on the community and surrounding area. It was not just the immediate deaths of the six seniors, but the rapid contagious nature of the new Omicron and the BA.5 variant spread quickly among many others associated with the site.

“In addition to the six deaths, another 42 residents were infected as well as 27 staff members,” DesLaurier said. “It has been a very challenging time.”

Being such a close-knit community where it seems everyone knows at least one person who passed away or a staff member infected with the virus, there was little time to grieve the loss of the residents.

“We not only had to adjust to the deaths of our residents, but we had to deal with staffing issues,” she added. “When the outbreak began several weeks ago, staff became ill and were sent home and then the back-up staff also became ill, so this created tremendous staffing pressure.”

Like many long-term care homes in the area, the Manor dealt with other COVID outbreaks since the pandemic began in March 2020. The staff were able to get through the last two years by adopting both provincial and local health unit protocols.

“There were waves of the virus that took its toll on our facility, but none have been like this one,” she said. . “This is the first time of this size. We’ve had a couple of small ones, maybe two or three, we managed to contain.”

However, this time they were not as fortunate.  The manor was hit with the virus during this wave in July where Omicron and the BA.5 variant were prevalent.

“The new variant is extremely contagious,” she said.

Residents were basically confined to their rooms, the rooms that were built in 1978 and are outdated to meet the needs of residents, especially in light of current accessibility regulations that are designed to allow for greater independence for persons with various disability issues and mobility challenges.

With the outbreak declared over, the staff and residents have begun the transition back to pre-outbreak conditions.

“The protocols will return to pre outbreak status which were under the Ministry of Long Term Care and Public Health’s direction,” she said. “The protocols will be in place for both the residents and family or visitors who have been anxious to see their loved ones.”

One of the recurring effects of these types of lock-downs is the sudden isolation that residents must endure.

“The residents can come back to the dining room, activities will resume and visits will resume,” she said. “We understand the effect of the isolation on the residents, and we are so concerned about the residents when they are isolated. It is a celebration when they come out.

DesLaurier said her organization will continue to work with the province and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit in terms of protocols, monitoring and evaluating the severity of any potential outbreaks on the horizon.

Like most of the population, there has been a sense of complacency in terms of preventative measures to help reduce the infection rate of the virus. The Manor will be vigilant in terms of enforcement of screening and protocols moving forward.

“We went through two-and-a-half years doing this and when we thought we were looking in the rear-view mirror this happened,” she said.

She is grateful to the local Red Cross chapter who were on site earlier in the week to prepare a team which will support Valley Manor by providing assistance in staff, infection control and emotional support for both staff and residents.

“There was a also a general call throughout the Ottawa Valley for anyone who can come and volunteer to assist our staff who have not had a break since this began,” she said. “So far we have received a fair response.”

Going forward, both staff and residents are anxious to move into a state-of-the-art facility currently under construction. It is a major improvement over the current outdated building and will meet or exceed current accessibility standards. The number of beds will increase from 90 to 96 with the rate of private rooms being 40 percent to 60 percent basic.

As DesLaurier points out, the new building will be a huge improvement for the residents.

”When The Manor originally opened, there were only two people that required assistance with ambulation. Fast forward to current day and it is the complete opposite. On average, only two residents are able to ambulate independently. Just as important, the new facility will allow for greater safeguards in terms of infection control and best practices for Infection Prevention & Control are currently being implemented.”

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