Move of seniors into new care home during pandemic 'finely choreographed'

The delicate job of moving 294 frail seniors into a new $86-million care facility in Quadra Village amid a pandemic is underway.

Residents from Oak Bay Lodge and Mount Tolmie long-term care home are expected to be moved over the next three days into the Summit, a publicly funded 320-bed residential complex-care and dementia-care facility at 955 Hillside Ave.

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“It’s a very finely choreographed move,” said Mark Blandford, executive director for primary care and seniors health at Island Health. Two years ago, he wasn’t certain how it could be pulled off.

“It’s a very impressive plan. And we’re very confident that it will be done safely.”

A company that specializes in hospital relocations is orchestrating the massive transfer of residents, and each patient has an individualized plan, according to Island Health.

Moving frail seniors, especially those with dementia, can be difficult at the best of times. Health officials worry about residents suffering falls, delirium-type issues or cardiac events while in transit.

On top of that, there needs to be strict infection-control protocols to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

“The last thing we want to do is bring COVID-19 into the Summit during the move and cause an outbreak in our brand-new facility, so we’ve done a lot to prevent that,” said Blandford.

“Everything we can predict, we’ve got a plan for.”

A total of 400 staff members will be working at the Summit, with about 150 on duty during any 24-hour period.

Construction of The Summit began in 2016 and was completed this year. Plans to open the facility in April were put on hold in case the building had to be used as a field hospital during the pandemic, but that was not needed because of relatively low virus-transmission rates.

For the health authority, now seemed like the ideal window for the move, with transmission rates of COVID-19 flat. Health officials also took into account the fact that in the event of a second wave of the virus, the next opportunity might not present itself until the new year.

The Summit offers private bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, grouped into “houses” of 16 to 24 residents. The layout of the building is intended to be efficient for staff, while private rooms allow for more individualized care plans and better infection-control.

The facility, among other advantages, has a dialysis room so residents don’t need to travel to hospital. It has a hair salon and outdoor spaces that include patios on every floor, a secure central courtyard on the main floor, and a walking path around the property.

Blandford, who formerly worked for the B.C. seniors advocate, maintains that in terms of regulations, oversight and quality control, B.C. is “way ahead of the curve” in providing seniors care.

There are no long-term-care COVID-19 outbreaks on Vancouver Island and only two remaining outbreaks in long-term care on the Lower Mainland, but those are being managed, he said.

“I don’t want to suggest we’re perfect here, but we’re way ahead of some of those awful things we’re seeing on the other side of the country.”

Reports from Ontario and Quebec have detailed neglect of seniors in care homes that came to light during the pandemic.

The majority of deaths from COVID-19 across the country have been residents in long-term care homes.

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