Shalom Village's COVID outbreak officially over

Feb. 6, 2021
Steve Arnold

The deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Shalom Village has been declared officially over.

Hamilton’s public health department informed the home’s management of the good news early Friday evening.

In a news release CEO Ken Callaghan said plans are being developed for a return to normal life at the Macklin Street North campus, but the transition will take some time.

“The past two months have been a very challenging time for the residents, staff, volunteers and family members who rely on Shalom Village,” he said. “We are thrilled to begin preparations to welcome essential caregivers to Shalom Village and looking forward to seeing out residents engage in pandemic appropriate activities.

“When restrictions allow, we know our residents will be excited to resume approved activities and visits from all loved ones,” he added. “Our teams are working together on planning to ensure a safe transition, and we ask our stakeholders to be patient for a little longer, as we work on transition plan details.”

From March to December of last year Shalom Village kept the COVID-19 virus at bay through an elaborate system of regular checks on staff and visitors, closing the campus to all visitors and replacing affected staff with temporary workers hired through agencies recommended by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

As the crisis deepened, management of the complex was also turned over to St. Joseph’s under an agreement that runs to the end of March. That deal saw St. Joseph’s staff take over some senior roles at Shalom, including the director of care position.

Somehow, the home’s defenses were breached in early December. In the next month 20 residents would die and 213 staff and residents would be infected. The majority of infections and deaths were in the long-term care facility.

The last death was reported Jan. 6. No active cases were identified as of the Feb. 3 town hall meeting for residents and families.

The standard for the public health department to declare an outbreak over was to wait 14 days after the last active case had been declared resolved. That meant the patient had served a 14 day quarantine period with no further illness. By Feb. 3 there were only two active cases among the home’s staff, and both of those workers had been infected outside.
With that mark now achieved, the home’s managers can turn their attention to bringing its life back to normal.

As the virus raged through the home residents were confined to their rooms, denied even the simple pleasure of strolling around their floors. The dining room and recreation centre were closed and essential caregivers, who help residents with day-to-day care, were banned.

As infection numbers improved, efforts to ease that boredom and confinement included the start last week of an exercise program where residents could now get 60 minutes of activity by being escorted to and from their rooms while fully armored in personal protective equipment. 

Residents were also treated to guided meditation on the home’s internal TV channels as well as a virtual hike through Banff National Park.

As of Feb. 2 all but one of the home’s residents had received at least one shot of vaccine against the virus. Second shots are to be administered Feb. 23. In addition, 70 per cent of Shalom’s staff have been inoculated. Efforts to get shots in the arms of all staff willing to receive the medicine have been slowed by supply issues.

Another piece of bring the complex and 81 apartments and 127 long-term care bed back to normal will be filling vacancies among staff. Callaghan told the most recent town hall meeting Shalom Village has 235 workers when its complement is full, but 20 per cent of those positions are vacant and being filled with temporary workers.

Managers are currently hiring PSWs, RNs and RPNs. Interviews are also being conducted for a director of care and two assistant directors. Six PSWs are slated to start next week. The positions proving hardest to fill, Callaghan said, are for RNs “because there just aren’t enough registered nurses to go around.”

The pandemic has also caused financial trouble for the campus. Rent for its apartments are a major source of income but the lockdown kept several from being shown to prospective tenants. That’s on top of what leaders have long said is severe underfunding of the long-term care sector by the provincial government.

Shalom’s leaders are trying to cover part of the shortfall through a special fundraising campaign on the home’s Internet site.

In his news release Callaghan said while residents and staff will be pleased at the official end of the outbreak, some time must be set aside to remember the 20 residents who died.

“We recognize the joy this will bring to many of our community members, but we also wish to acknowledge the tragic loss of the Shalom Village family members who are no longer with us to enjoy this moment,” he wrote. “This has truly been a difficult time for everyone at Shalom, and we all feel the loss of our family members.”

An online memorial for those residents is being planned.