Ontario long-term care home no longer under strict lockdown

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The 120 residents of Lakeside Long-Term Care Centre in Toronto have been released from isolation after some were kept in their rooms for as long as a month.

Family member complained to CTV News last week about the excessive measures, which saw residents put into isolation for extended periods after staff tested positive for COVID-19. Residents tested negative repeatedly and were triple vaccinated.

After discussions with Toronto Public Health and Extendicare, the organization that manages the long-term care (LTC) facility, restrictions were eased, allowing residents to take short walks in the hallways.

“I took a deep breath and I yelled out ‘freedom,'” said resident Jennifer Brown in a Zoom interview with CTV News. The 83-year-old had previously described her month in quarantine to CTV News as a form of “solitary confinement.”

Under guidelines from Toronto Public Health, each time a staff member on their floor tested positive, all the residents were ordered into their rooms.

In addition to being able to walk in corridors, the new rules will allow residents to take showers and baths. Under the old rules, residents were restricted to bed bathing only.

Additionally, only residents who tests positive for COVID-19 will remain in their room until cleared by health officials.

“I was just, I was thrilled. I was thrilled knowing that people would be out of their rooms,” said Mea Renahan in a phone call with CTV News.

She is the essential caregiver for her 105-year-old mother Marita at Lakeside, and was distressed at watching the decline in other residents under the lockdown.

“I could see a change in residents after just two days of being out of their rooms,” said Renahan.

She describes seeing residents who were fully mobile prior to the confinement, who became deconditioned. She said they are now taking tentative steps in the hallways.

“Many still have a long road ahead to recover and as in the past, they may not come back fully,” she added.

The outbreak protocol changes don’t apply to other long-term care homes, but Renahan is hoping other families will push for changes.

The district health council also told family members the Lakeside case has prompted discussions with the provincial Ministry of Health.

In an email from the provincial health body to family of residents at Lakeside, it says they will “review and update COVID protocols for LTC.”

The key will be to balance precautions with the risk of transmission.

“We understand how important it is to maintain continued opportunities for movement and socializing within the home during an outbreak,” wrote Erin Hannah, associate deputy minister for long-term care pandemic response, in an email to Renahan and representatives of Extendicare.

Dr. Samir Sinha, a geriatric specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, says the changes at Lakeside are “positive news.”

“The protocols that have been approved in this home will and have certainly greatly improved the quality of life of the home’s residents,” he wrote in an email to CTV News.

But Dr. Sinha cautions that with increased activity, there may be a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission among residents and staff, since Omicron can still infect those who are fully vaccinated.

In Ontario, there are now over 1,500 resident cases and 22 resident deaths in the last seven days. Outbreaks have been reported in 1,485 LTC and retirement facilities across Canada.

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