THUNDER BAY – Southbridge Care Homes has offered new details on how a staff member who had tested positive for COVID-19 was able to report to work at its Roseview long-term care home.
An existing outbreak at the Shuniah Street home, now in its seventh week, had claimed the lives of 19 residents and infected more than 125 residents and staff as of Tuesday.
After initially revealing few details on the breach, the company said Monday that a COVID-positive personal support worker (PSW) was allowed into the building to work night shifts on Dec. 28 and 29.
Both of those shifts came after the home was notified mid-day on Dec. 28 by the Thunder Bay Public Health Unit that she had tested positive. Staff at the home are routinely tested, currently every five days, and are not required to self-isolate while awaiting those surveillance test results.
“It is the primary responsibility of public health to notify people of their positive status,” the company said, in a statement attributed to executive Candace Chartier. “It is our responsibility to make sure staff who have tested positive do not enter the home and we sincerely apologize for this incident.”
Southbridge and the health unit made numerous phone calls to the employee’s cell phone and left voicemails on Dec. 28 and 29 in an attempt to notify her of the positive test, the company said.
However, an apparent failure to follow screening protocols by a security guard at the home allowed her to enter for work later on both of those days.
In an email obtained by tbnewswatch.com, Southbridge VP Beryl Collingwood told the family of one Roseview resident the breach was a result of “human error.”
“The staff member on the night shift who was at the door did not follow the proper protocols,” she wrote.
The company would not say whether the security guard who allowed the PSW to enter the 157-bed home had access to information on the positive test result.
“Due to the fact that the [PSW] didn’t receive the messages around her positive result, she was adamant that she had the previously scheduled shifts and therefore the security guard allowed entry to the home,” it said.
A public health unit nurse finally went to the employee’s residence on the afternoon of Dec. 30 and informed her directly of the positive test. The worker has not been in the home since, the company said.
No new infections had yet been identified as a direct result of the incident following testing conducted on Dec. 31.
The home will continue to “diligently monitor” the situation, including continued surveillance testing of staff every five days.
Southbridge did not say how many residents and staff had been exposed as a result of the incident, but suggested the PSW’s interactions with residents had been limited.
“The employee did not provide personal care to residents those two nights and was wearing full personal protective equipment,” it said.
Instead, the PSW had been assigned to perform “various non-clinical tasks such as audits, cleaning, disinfecting equipment and stocking supplies.”
Southbridge also said risk to residents was minimized because the PSW had worked only in COVID-positive units of the home on Dec. 28 and 29, where she would have had contact only with residents who were already infected with the virus.
The home had initially advised some families of uninfected residents in "green zones" that their relatives had been exposed. A representative said that later proved to be untrue.
"A Southbridge employee did call families before the review was complete and, erring on the side of caution, communicated that the employee had been in the green zone, which she had not been," the company clarified Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson said Monday the company was “absolutely, 100 per cent” certain the worker had not exposed any uninfected residents on the two days in question.
The breach has been the subject of an investigation by the health unit, Ontario’s Ministry of Long Term Care confirmed Monday.
“The home has advised the ministry that after a public health unit investigation, the home is creating a new, more detailed process to ensure only staff with a verified negative test and on a scheduled shift may enter the home,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Neither the health unit nor Southbridge had released details of the breach to the public prior to being questioned about it, after a family member brought forward concerns to Tbnewswatch.