Shalom Village staff start to receive COVID vaccines

Dec. 31, 2020
Steve Arnold

Two more Shalom Village residents have died from the COVID-19 virus, bringing the total of fatalities to 18 as of Dec. 30.

Those deaths come as staff of the retirement and nursing home begin receiving vaccinations against the deadly virus.

Interim CEO Larry Levin told a town hall meeting of residents and families Dec. 28 that 10 staff are being vaccinated every day clinics are available but that could take as much as three weeks before all workers are immunized.

“We are pushing as hard as it s possible to push to get our staff vaccinated,” he said. “We hope that before four weeks have passed people will be able to come back in to see their loved ones.”

Shalom Village kept the virus at bay for almost nine months, but its defenses were breached Dec. 9 in an outbreak that has swept through the campus of 127-bed long-term care beds and 81 apartments.

Levin explained the first vaccination shots are going to staff of the long-term care unit, but the process of immunizing staff has been slowed by the simple fact the current Pfizer vaccine can’t be brought to the home because it must be stored at very low temperatures.

That means staff have to travel to inoculation sites.

The Moderna vaccine, that doesn’t require such storage, isn’t expected to be available for at least another week.

Levin said as many as 10 staff a day are getting shots voluntarily as managers seek advice on whether vaccinations can be required.

In the meantime, he said, managers are trying not to move staff around the facility.

Levin said the surge of infections at the home did cause a staffing shortage, but that gap has been filled with workers from a private contractor recommended by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

With those workers, he said, an earlier plan to recruit volunteers from the community has been shelved.

“Our staffing levels have returned to normal so these volunteers will not be useful right now,” he said.

As the fight continues, Levin said Shalom Village asked for a voluntary management agreement with St. Joseph’s. Under that deal, St. Joe’s staffer Amanda Weatherston has taken over as interim director of care, while a permanent replacement is sought.

As of Dec. 30 Shalom Village reported 162 staff and residents had been infected with the virus.

Of the 71 staff infected, 56 of the cases had been resolved as of Dec. 30.

In total 91 residents were affected, with 11 of those cases in the apartment complex. In the original building, two cases were reported on the second floor, three on the third floor and six on the fourth floor.

Of the 80 cases among long term care patients, 25 were on the first floor of the original building, 30 were on the second floor, 19 were on the first floor and six on the second floor of the Shalom Village Too building.

In addition to those cases, three essential caregivers had tested positive and five people were in hospital.

Levin’s comments came in the wake of a critical story in The Hamilton Spectator quoting a Toronto doctor saying he warned Levin in advance the home was understaffed and if the situation did not improve more residents would die.

The piece also quoted unnamed staff who complained they felt “overwhelmed” by the demands of the outbreak and abandoned by the top leadership of Shalom Village who are not onsite during the outbreak.

Levin told the meeting the doctor making those allegations has never worked directly with Shalom Village, and said everything possible is being done to stay on top of the outbreak.

“All supports and recommendations are being used to keep us in top shape,” he said. “Unfortunately it is our turn to be on the front lines of this outbreak, but we are slowly getting past it.

“We welcome the advice of experts and actively seek them out,” he added. “We believe our residents are receiving appropriate care and their needs are being met.”

Shalom’s top leaders sought to ease staff concerns in a note praising the extra effort put out during the outbreak.

Co-chairs David Horwood and Mayer Michalowicz wrote “As the Board of Directors, we have always taken a great deal of pride in the capacity of Shalom Village staff to care for our residents, their families and each other. We attribute our outstanding reputation for providing quality care and creating a loving home environment to you, our caring and hard-working staff. And as we face this distressing outbreak, we continue to be humbled by your sincere efforts, diligence and dedication in caring for the resident and families who entrust their care to us.

“Today and in the weeks to come we will continue to face the enormous challenges in confronting this devastating virus. We recognize that COVID-19 significantly impacts you, our staff, as well as our residents. We have partnered with St. Joseph’s Healthcare to provide management support to help curtail further spread of COVID-19.”