Pandemic has strengthened OMNI’s, LTC sector’s knowledge about curbing viral spread

Still, more government resources are needed for LTC homes to stay ahead of the curve, says OMNI CEO Patrick McCarthy

Although OMNI Health Care and the long-term care sector at large had a wealth of knowledge about infection, prevention and control best practices before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the level of understanding of how to keep residents and staff members safe from the highly contagious virus has greatly increased during the past six months, says Patrick McCarthy.

McCarthy, OMNI’s president and CEO, says when the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March, long-term care homes followed the methodology and safety protocols outlined by Public Health Ontario surrounding the isolation of symptomatic residents and staff.

Public Health Units, initially hampered by a shortage of testing swabs, would only test up to three symptomatic residents in a home before declaring an outbreak. Testing was otherwise not available to determine whether others had been infected.

Public Health officials and government now have a better understanding of the risk of infection amongst otherwise asymptomatic residents and staff, and the need to broaden testing.

According to WHO data, about 80 per cent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus either have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

“That really emphasizes the absolute need for frequent testing and the continued availability of testing,” McCarthy says, adding while there’s more availability of testing today, concerns remain about the capacity of Public Health to provide contact tracing as well as lengthy delays in receiving test results which are essential to containing the spread.

In addition to testing, McCarthy indicates there is a continuous need for homes to have the resources to train, monitor and audit staff practices to ensure infection protection and control protocols are followed at all times because of the potential that can exist for even a momentary lapse in protocol.

Staffing levels in long-term care homes, however, remain an issue.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA), McCarthy notes, is advocating for increased funding and innovative approaches to attracting and training staff to ensure resident care is maintained while also strengthening capacity for infection, prevention and control practices.

“We need action from the government to address that systemic issue,  it’s vitally important to addressing the pandemic,” he says.