The province announced $10 million on Friday to enhance infection prevention and control equipment in B.C. seniors homes, 22 of which have had outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Seniors and residents of long-term care and assisted-living homes are the most vulnerable due to complications associated with COVID-19,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday.
“Our goal is to ensure that both residents and health-care workers are protected to the maximum extent possible.”
The B.C. Care Providers Association, which will administer the EquipCare B.C. program, will begin accepting applications today. Successful applicants can expect funding within weeks, said Daniel Fontaine, the association’s chief executive officer.
The money may be used to buy items such as mobile hand-hygiene sinks, touchless towel and soap dispensers, and safe handling equipment for waste and laundry.
“I don’t want anyone to not have access to what they need,” Dix said. “We want to make sure we’re not sparing anything right now.”
Outbreaks at care homes have affected 176 people, both residents and staff. All 22 of the affected facilities have been in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions.
According to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, there have been a total of 1,174 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C., including 74 in the Island Health region, and 35 deaths.
Of those who have tested positive, 641 have fully recovered — including 31 on Vancouver Island — and are no longer in isolation. Almost 150 people are in hospital.
Dix said EquipCare B.C. does not tackle the greater challenge of sourcing personal protective equipment such as masks for health care workers, including those in care homes.
“Does this change the need for [personal protective equipment]? Not one bit. Does it change our massive effort to get more? No, not at all,” he said, adding that he spends his weekends tracking down those supplies and shipments.
EquipCare B.C. expands on the 2016 Seniors Safety Quality Improvement Program, which ended last month and spent $10 million over three years on more than 8,000 items, including beds, shower chairs, tubs and ergonomic furniture.
For the next five months, the funding will open up to all non-government long-term care home and assisted-living providers for infection prevention and control equipment. After that, the plan is for it to revert to funding safety and quality improvements for providers of publicly funded beds.
Mike Klassen, vice-president of public affairs for the B.C. Care Providers Association, applauded the move.
“The government deserves a lot of credit,” said Klassen, whose organization represents non-government operators of care services in the province. “This is a really good idea.”
The province has already taken some measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at care homes, limiting the number of facilities staff can work in to prevent spread of the virus.
COVID-19 outbreaks at the Lynn Valley Care Home and Haro Park, in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, include 91 confirmed cases among residents and 49 amongst staff.
Part-time and casual staff held jobs at multiple facilities. That practice has ceased in all of the 22 seniors homes with outbreaks. The practice is more of an issue in larger communities with multiple care homes.
“Hopefully, the huge efforts that have been put in place to prevent further outbreaks there are going to come forward,” Dix said.
Asked about when outbreaks might be seen on the Island, he said it’s not inevitable.
“We have been testing aggressively staff people everywhere on the province, including on Vancouver Island,” Dix said. “If there is an outbreak of a home on Vancouver Island, we will be informing people immediately — but there is not one as of now.”