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Staff 'extremely frustrated and stressed,’ says Simcoe Manor union official

'It’s a big outbreak and it is concerning,' says union official; County thankful to staff for 'their herculean efforts during this serious outbreak'

Tired. Stressed. Worried. Scared. Frustrated.

Those are some of the words Allison Ward-Trumbley uses to describe how some of the Simcoe Manor staff are feeling while they deal with the COVID-19 outbreak at the home.

Ward-Trumbley is the SEIU Healthcare union representative for more than 100 staff members at the Beeton long-term care facility, where seven residents have died.

Last week, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre was brought in to aid the County of Simcoe in dealing with the outbreak, but Ward-Trumbley says the blame for the outbreak at Simcoe Manor, as well as the many other long-term care outbreaks across Ontario, should lay at the feet of provincial governments past and present.

“Staff are extremely frustrated and stressed. They’re worried about bringing COVID home to their loved ones. These folks have been working through PSW shortages for a significant period of time, pre-outbreak and pre-pandemic,” Ward-Trumbley said.

“They’re tired. They feel some of their concerns have not been heard along the way. They also don’t want to worry their loved ones at home, so a lot of times, they feel alone,” she said.

As of Friday, 40 residents and 28 staff members at Simcoe Manor have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Seven residents have died.

“It’s a big outbreak and it is concerning. After everything we learned from the first round, (it’s surprising) that we would see such a large outbreak again,” she said.

Ward-Trumbley is critical of the County of Simcoe in how they informed staff members about the outbreak.

The outbreak was declared as 'respiratory' on Sept. 29 with the pathogen listed as pending. Staff, as well as residents and families, were informed on Oct. 2 that the pathogen had been confirmed as COVID-19.

She alleges that communication about the positive case went to employee work emails, so if they weren’t working on Oct. 2 or if they didn't check their work email, they didn’t know they had possibly been exposed.

“Some staff heard about the confirmed COVID case when they were contacted by family and friends because they read it in a media report. Their family and friends read it there first. They had no idea,” said Ward-Trumbley.

Jane Sinclair, general manager of health and emergency services at the County of Simcoe, disputes that communications were only sent through internal channels to staff.

“As soon as public health confirmed that we had a positive case on Oct. 2 and provided our team with direction about the outbreak, we quickly notified staff using a variety of communication tools, including text messages to all Simcoe Manor staff personal phone numbers, email notifications, posts on our intranet, on-site staff updates and on-site signage,” Sinclair told BarrieToday.

A shortage of personal support workers in Ontario and a lack of funding for the sector as a whole are issues that existed prior to the pandemic.

“I know there were significant staffing level challenges, but that’s something that’s not specific to Simcoe Manor, or Simcoe County, or any one long-term care facility. It is a systemic problem across the province,” said Ward-Trumbley. “The PSW role seems under-valued and under-appreciated. They’re overworked and underpaid. Where do they go from there? It can be hard for them to remain positive.”

On Oct. 13, the Ministry of Long-Term Care issued a Mandatory Management Order appointing Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre to temporarily manage Simcoe Manor for 90 days.

“To have the Ministry of Long-Term Care bring in RVH to help deal with the outbreak was a welcome relief,” said Ward-Trumbley. “(Staff) certainly want to acknowledge RVH and the work that’s going in through there. They recognize the work that’s happening.”

A lack of PPE also needs to be recognized, workers content. Ward-Trumbley said she has heard concerns from staff not having access to powdered gloves in the sizing they require. She has also heard concerns about delays in having N95 masks delivered.

Sinclair said that despite a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially early on in the pandemic, the County of Simcoe worked with the province and their suppliers to ensure they had an adequate supply of protective gear.

“The county has implemented a stringent PPE supply inventory management system and monitored availability at each shift,” said Sinclair.

Sinclair noted that internal data indicates that actions taken on Day 1 of the outbreak helped to mitigate rapid spread at Simcoe Manor. Forty-eight of the 68 current COVID-19 cases date back to the Oct. 2 and 5 testing period, with the bulk of the remaining positive cases all falling within the 14-day incubation period from the date the home declared an outbreak.

“This shows that the virus spread quickly, often without exhibiting symptoms, but the efforts of our staff in the home helped to mitigate further spread. We can’t thank our staff enough for their herculean efforts during this serious outbreak,” she said.

Looking forward, Ward-Trumbley says there are other arrangements the county could be making to make things better for staff working at the home.

“Putting staff up that are working in COVID-infected units in local hotels (would) give them that peace of mind that they aren’t taking home to their families. Some of the temporary staff they have coming in, they are putting up. But the everyday staff that work there year-round, that would have been something that some staff would have taken them up on should it have been offered. It would have given some sort of reassurance,” she said.

“That’s the biggest worry at the end of the day for some of these people – taking it home to their loved ones,” she added.

Sinclair said she takes the well-being staff seriously, adding the county has put a variety of mental health supports in place to help staff deal with the situation, including hiring a full-time social services worker to deal with staff mental health.

“Additionally, we have made available counsellors from Homewood Services to offer further staff wellness supports. These confidential supports are available 24/7 and are free of charge to our staff. We have also created a Wellness page on our intranet,” she said.

“We recognize the toll this outbreak and pandemic has had on everyone. The county is also working with area hospice partners to provide grief counselling resources and information," said Sinclair.

She also noted that the county would be willing to assist any staff that require housing supports.

“We’re faced with staffing shortages, and to address the urgent need we have outsourced support from PSW, cleaning and dietary agencies to help maintain levels of care and support the home. To bring these staff to our home, we’ve had to provide accommodations in some instances,” she said.

“As county staff may require housing supports, we have assisted them on individual bases. We encourage those staff to come forward who may also need housing supports.”

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 11 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering County of Simcoe matters, education and features
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