‘The public didn’t know’: Why some frail seniors weren’t in Alberta’s first vaccine rollout — Groundwork

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It’s a one-word difference — licensed versus designated — but it’s meant the difference between the relief of a vaccination campaign and being stuck in the same mind-numbing isolation and anxiety that care homes have been dealing with for months.

The COVID-19 vaccine has gone to what are called designated supportive living facilities, not licensed supportive living. And since supply has virtually dried up, that’s a really big deal.

Seniors and families of frail older adults have been writing in to the Edmonton Journal‘s Groundwork project, saying they’ve felt lied to, like “second-class citizens,” because reports claiming all seniors’ homes got the vaccine are simply untrue.

Only that never was the government’s claim. It just sounded like it.

“The public didn’t know. We don’t even think the premier understood it, that the health minister understood it,” said Wendy King, executive director of Canterbury, a licensed supportive living facility in west Edmonton where 60 per cent of the residents have dementia and the average age is 90.

Only a few of her health-care staff got the vaccine before supplies ran low. None of the residents were vaccinated.

That puts them in a bind. The facility locked down in December, after three close calls where family visitors tested positive within days of a visit. After consulting with resident and family councils, the facility banned visitors.

Staff can see the impact. Some residents are really suffering, eating less, growing despondent, losing hope, beginning to question why they’re alive, said King. “These are the ones that really need to see their loved ones.”

So without a vaccine, and with even more contagious variants circulating in the community, they’re planning to partially re-open.

But vaccine supply is expected to ramp up again before spring. King is hopeful families will know soon whether these frail seniors will then be at the front of the line. The industry association and seniors’ families have been lobbying for change.

“We think they heard us,” she said.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said the COVID-19 cabinet committee was reviewing priority groups and will announce new details as early as this week.

Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said the government prioritized seniors in the 27,000 long-term care and designated supportive living beds, even if they already caught and recovered from COVID-19, because that’s where 61 per cent of the approximately 1,700 deaths so far occurred.

He said four per cent of the deaths occurred in the 19,000 licensed supportive care or other kinds of seniors homes.

Nine per cent of the deaths have been associated with outbreaks in acute care facilities, such as the Misericordia Hospital, and 26 per cent have been in other settings, such as seniors living on their own or with family in the community.

Some of the 19,000 seniors in licensed and assisted living have also been vaccinated, if they are in facilities that have long-term care or designated beds, and those residents normally mingle in common areas. In total, 26,900 residents have received at least a first dose.