New exemption order allows AHS staff to work in long-term care centres under COVID-19 outbreak

EDMONTON — COVID-19 outbreaks at two Edmonton continuing care facilities have prompted Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw to sign off on an exemption order that allows AHS staff to reinforce the affected centres. 

The Edmonton General is on lockdown after 55 staff members contracted COVID-19. Revera’s long term care facility in Edmonton, South Terrace, is in a similar situation, recently reporting 70 employees are unable to work because of the coronavirus.

AHS officials say they’re mindful that moving staff between these two sites may be worrisome for some observers, but maintain many safeguards are in place.

“This is a significant and real concern that during periods of outbreaks, whether it be in acute care or continuing care, we spend a huge amount of time ensuring that it’s safe,” Edmonton Zone Medical Director Dr. David Zygun told CTV News Edmonton.

“This is one of the benefits of our integrated system. We’re on site. We can monitor and audit as needed to provide the necessary PPE and the supports for these outbreak sites, ensuring that the staff has everything they need.” 

The province’s plan to send reinforcements from other parts of the region is drawing criticism from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

“Members are already exhausted, they’re working extra shifts… and overtime for their colleagues that are possibly sick or isolating,” AUPE Vice-President Susan Slade told CTV News Edmonton. ”They’re scared and they’re worried about the residents that they look after everyday… a lot of them are like family.” 

The ability to move AHS staff into different long tem care facilities is important, says Dr. Zygun.

“It’s always best if we can do it with the contractor that’s their usual caregivers and their usual environment,” he said. “As we do respond, as you know, to an outbreak, we’re going to need more resources at those sites.”

“Our ability to move our people and their people around is very important to make sure we can continue to maintain.”

South Terrace has reported 146 COVID-19 cases since its outbreak began, making it the largest at a continuing care home in Alberta since the pandemic began.

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