By Noori Shahkar, Lynn Valley Care Centre Administrator & Environmental Safety Co-ordinator

To say that the year has been a tough and incredibly challenging one for all of us is an understatement.

We are one year into the global outbreak of COVID-19, but at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, we remember it like it was yesterday. And to say that the year has been a tough and incredibly challenging one for all of us, is an understatement.

At LVCC, we support people at later stages of life, which can include extensive or complete support with everyday activities such as getting dressed, getting in and out of bed, eating, and maintaining personal hygiene.

As such, our team takes their responsibility for resident care very personally, and this level of closeness between our residents, their families and loved ones, and our staff, makes us all part of a large family.

It takes a special kind of person to work in our sector. Those who do it, consider it more than just a job and earning an income. They are here to make a difference in seniors lives and they take great pride in the work they do.

Ever since that fateful afternoon of March 5, 2020 when we learned of a positive test for one of our team members, LVCC’s operations changed forever. Like other Long-Term Care facilities, our workload, and the cost of running LVCC has increased significantly due to the pandemic.

We estimate that the in the first three months alone, (from March to May 2020), costs rose by several million dollars after including wage levelling for staff, temporary pandemic pay, inflated expenses for personal protective equipment, and the requirements for deep cleaning — most of which were ultimately covered by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

Our staff, especially those involved in direct care, along with support services and management, have spent a year in the trenches fighting the virus and making a lot of sacrifices along the way. They have also experienced a profound emotional toll of being at the centre of so much anxiety, public attention, and lots of controversy.

Unbeknownst to many was the fact that our centre was put under significant strain on the night of March 8 through a hoax call that created fear and panic, restricted staff from leaving, and prevented a shift change. (Since then, an RCMP investigation eventually tracked down and arrested the caller, who now has been charged and is awaiting his day in court. The caller’s motivation for making the call is still unknown.)

This incident left our management team and remaining staff scrambling for the next 24 hours to serve meals or provide toileting assistance and attending to those with the most urgent needs. What kept us going during that time as well as other difficult times of the COVID outbreak, was the fact that people needed us.

Little did we know that this moment would only be the beginning of our Centre’s tragic encounter with the disease. For weeks COVID-19 would ravage the people at LVCC, infecting a total of 76 staff and residents, ultimately taking 20 lives. To this day, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers continue to go out to those we lost, as well as their families and loved ones, in this tragic incident.

The pandemic has forever changed how Long-Term Care facilities such as ours are managed and operated. These days, our daily routines involve us fully incorporating PPE, as well as constant handwashing, deep cleaning, and adhering to other pandemic safety protocols, most of which will continue post-vaccination and likely into the new normal.

Our entire mindsets have changed. We will continue screening residents in advance for symptoms, and we will forever more be screening staff and visitors. We will maintain social distancing in our dining room and common areas, and the use of technology for virtual visits will likely remain a permanent fixture. Infection control training has risen to the top of the list. And we are actively reviewing new and innovative technologies, products, and approaches to deep and enhanced cleaning.

Even though staff and residents have all been vaccinated – something for which we are truly grateful – we know we haven’t turned the corner quite yet. Our efforts remain focused on getting LVCC through this pandemic.

At some point down the road however, we plan to unveil a memorial commensurate with the magnitude of this tragic event and our loss, making it an indelible moment in history that we hope will never been forgotten.