The COVID-19 pandemic could affect anyone, but seniors and those with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable becoming very ill, several health reports have found.
That vulnerability is a top priority among government and community leaders.
As of March 18, all visits to long-term care facilities in the Northwest Territories were cancelled by the Department of Health and Social Services.
Suzette Montreuil, executive director of the NWT Seniors Society, stated in an email to NNSL Media that the biggest concern in relation to Elders and seniors is keeping the coronavirus out of the territory. The advocacy group has provided regular information on its website and Facebook page and also has an information telephone line where residents can get updated information.
“Media advisories have focused on travel as this is highest level of risk of entry,” Montreuil stated. “Early on, the chief public health officer recommended that people 65 and over not travel outside of the NWT.”
Although there’s plenty of valid information available on internet and posters on best respiratory practices and coronavirus have been hung in health offices, Montreuil said it would be good to have information provided in a variety of ways in the communities and in different languages to make sure seniors understand.
She’s specifically advising older people to take necessary precautions related to personal hygiene and social distancing, to stock up on food and supplies in case self-isolation is required and to follow recommendations about not travelling.
It’s important to check on seniors to make sure they are OK and to offer help if required. It would be good to have a formal database to monitor seniors, especially those with health problems, Montreuil added.
Long-term care facilities
Organizations in Yellowknife that provide housing and services for seniors have ramped up safety measures to protect their residents, caregivers and others who work with them.
The Avens seniors community has implemented tighter measures in its direct care housing facilities in Yellowknife.
Since COVID-19 progressed to the pandemic stage, Avens has taken a measured approach and progressively increased its safeguards, Avens CEO Daryl Dolynny told NNSL Media.
“It’s a very detailed process to deal with this. Pandemic planning doesn’t happen everyday. We’ve been working with local health authorities,” Dolynny said. “There’s daily meetings between the homes and senior management of the health authorities. I’ve got to give the GNWT credit on (their management of the situation).”
To manage the movement of people into its 29-bed Aven Manor long-term care facility, Avens has closed two of its entrances, leaving one option.
Effective Friday, all staff were to begin having their temperature checked upon entering the facility. As part of pandemic planning, staff have been taking temperatures of the residents every day.
At the manor and the 28-bed Aven Cottages dementia centres, visitors have been restricted, including family members, for an undetermined period.
“We have no idea what that time period might look like. All family members have been informed of what’s happening. We’re going to be looking at creative ways that family members can interact with residents here. It would be through electronic means like Skype and other means,” Dolynny explained.
Cleaning has been accelerated, with terminal and touch point sterilization happening more frequently, and Avens has ensured it has enough gloves, face masks, gowns and toilet paper.
Daily communication has increased as well, including among its 120 staff, its board of directors and with government health officials.
“We believe that more enhanced communication, tightened protocols, restricted visitation (are important),” said Dolynny. “We’re doing everything possible to mitigate the situation. And we’re working to create a more positive environment for the residents that we care for.”
Dolynny added that Avens staff experienced pandemic measures in the past with the outbreaks of H1N1, SARS and norovirus.
“We’ve had opportunities throughout the cycle of epidemics to experience this,” he said.
Seniors in independent living
Safeguards have also been intensified at the Mary Murphy Seniors Home, which is managed by the Yellowknife Housing Authority.
Tenants at Mary Murphy live independently in apartments and it’s not a long-term care facility like Avens Manor.
In response to the pandemic, the housing authority has limited maintenance at Mary Murphy to only emergency repairs of essential appliances and utilities, reduced its number of face-to-face meetings and asked all its staff to self-quarantine if they show coronavirus symptoms or have traveled outside Canada.
It has also heightened its cleaning efforts by the caretaker such as wiping down countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and common surfaces with a microfiber cloth dampened in a solution of hot water and an all-purpose cleaner twice per day, said CEO Bob Bies.
Tenants are encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water repeatedly during the day and visitors have been limited until the pandemic situation eases, he said.
Meals on Wheels
The meal delivery service Meals on Wheels, intended for clients who are 60 and older and who have no one to help them prepare meals, has changed its format in response to COVID-19.
While volunteers often work for Meals on Wheels, in Yellowknife the program has taken on home support workers for meal delivery as they are trained in infection prevention, wearing personal protective equipment and social distancing, said a GNWT spokesperson.
Meals are prepared at Stanton Territorial Hospital and there are fewer than 10 clients in Yellowknife, the spokesperson added.
–with files from Simon Whitehouse