Across the territory, people are getting ready to open back up to a limited extent when phase one of the NWT’s recovery plan kicks in, widely anticipated to be Friday.
However, the same plan makes clear that the territory’s long-term care homes will be one of the last places to return to “normal” as they look to protect residents.
According to the plan, a “successful vaccination program” has to be in place for seniors, those who are immune-compromised, and people living with long-term illnesses before final restrictions can be lifted. Until then, mass gatherings and indoor visits involving seniors remain a no-go.
It is estimated a vaccine for Covid-19 won’t be available for at least another year. That means long-term care facilities may not leave a form of lockdown for many months.
At Aven Manor, the Yellowknife long-term care facility, this week’s announcement of the NWT’s recovery plan changes “very little,” said Avens chief executive Daryl Dolynny.
The facility is following national and territorial rules to guide operations during the pandemic, as well as measures of its own.
“There are various levels and layers of protocols that we’re following,” Dolynny said, “all of which is to protect the residents and also to protect the staff who work here.”
Those protocols include no in-person visits, taking the temperature of staff each day, and sanitizing amenities and equipment more often.
Avens holds two meetings a week for staff to ask questions and raise concerns, and hosts weekly Zoom calls with families of residents to keep them in the loop.
“Communication is very important when there are pandemic situations,” Dolynny said. “That tends to help ease a lot of the anxiety and discomfort that many of us are going through.”
Praise for ‘early decisions’
The Northwest Territories has reported only five cases of the novel coronavirus to date. All five Covid-19 patients subsequently recovered.
Compared to most of Canada, Avens and its residents are relatively safe.
Elsewhere, long-term care homes have become a ground-zero for many Covid-19 outbreaks.
In April, federal chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam stated nearly half of all Covid 19-related deaths had happened in long-term care facilities. The Canadian military was deployed in Ontario to make up for staff shortages.
Dolynny credits Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, with the territory’s comparatively strong position.
“I think we need to take a step back and look at what our senior leadership has done for us,” he said, “making early decisions on securing our borders and putting pretty solid restrictions in place to protect all of us, including our seniors.
“I’ll tell you, [with] conviction, the reactions of Dr Kami Kandola and her team [were] paramount. I stand by them 110 percent. And all of us should do the same.”
While the facility remains on strict lockdown for the next while, Avens is finding new ways to keep residents engaged and connected. With visits from family and friends off the table, Dolynny said that means getting creative.
A number of iPads and tablets have been donated, which residents can use to video call loved ones and explore the internet. Recreation and wellness programming has become a lifeline, helping to fight some of the anxiety and loneliness residents are facing.
Dolynny acknowledged that while it might not be soon, he and the Avens team are keeping a close eye on how the situation develops and look forward to opening back up when it’s safe.
“We understand it’s difficult for families,” Dolynny said. “We’re doing everything behind the scenes in order to bridge a lot of that anxiety with technology, and different ways of trying to figure out how to bring families and loved ones together.
“It’s just looking a little different under [these] protocols.”