OTTAWA -- The company that manages the hard-hit Starwood long-term care home says delays in getting timely COVID-19 test results for residents and staff is one of the major challenges it is facing during the second wave.

The COVID-19 outbreak at Starwood is now the deadliest outbreak in Ottawa during the second wave of the pandemic.

According to data from Ottawa Public Health, the outbreak at the home on Starwood Road, not far from Algonquin College, began on Sept. 25. Since then, it has affected 131 residents and 44 staff members. 

Extendicare tells CTV News that 82 cases in residents and 33 cases in staff members are now considered resolved. 

However, 21 residents of Starwood have died of COVID-19, surpassing the 20 deaths from the outbreak at the nearby West End Villa long-term care home, which is also operated by Extendicare.

In a statement to CTV News, an Extendicare spokesperson said Starwood and some of its other long-term care homes in Ottawa have struggled with delays in getting test results.

"It has frequently taken many days to receive test results for our staff and residents. We can’t fight the virus if we don’t know where it is or who might be carrying it," the statement says. "Delays in test results mean delays in accurate cohorting and delays in sending staff home to isolate, leaving them working in the home longer which increases the risk of spread to the residents. We had several outbreaks in our Ottawa homes that coincided with very slow lab turnaround times in September and October."

Nearly four million rapid tests for COVID-19 are now in the hands of provincial health authorities but many jurisdictions are still evaluating how the devices might help battle the pandemic. Health Canada has approved more than three dozen different tests for COVID-19, but only six of them are "point-of-care" versions more commonly referred to as rapid tests.

Earlier this week, Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, said the Ottawa COVID-19 testing taskforce is working on a pilot project for rapid testing, but there are concerns over how accurate they are.

"The challenge right now is that we would want to confirm those results with the regular test because we’re still needing to study how much would COVID be missed by tests that are falsely negative,” Dr. Etches said.

In late October, the Ministry of Long-Term Care announced a new management agreement to allow the Ottawa Hospital to provide enhanced support to Starwood. The ministry said the arrangement would provide support to address the current spread of COVID-19 in the home, help stabilize the situation and return the home to normal operations.

At the time, 55 residents and 20 staff members at the home had tested positive for COVID-19 and three residents had died.

Extendicare told CTV News it was grateful for the help.

"The Ottawa Hospital provides management support, specialized medical and nursing expertise and daily assistance with IPAC (infection protection and control). The hospital has been an incredible support to the Starwood team and we are very grateful for their help," the company said.

Some of the other protocols in place at the home include:

  • Bringing in additional staff from other homes to assist with care for residents;
  • Extendicare says it has "engaged an external cleaning company which has allowed us to enhance the already robust cleaning protocols at the home, including frequently sanitizing high-touch surfaces such as handrails"
  • Monitoring residents twice-daily for symptoms associated with COVID-19 and taking their temperatures twice-per day. If anyone exhibits symptoms, they are immediately tested and isolation procedures are initiated. Staff and residents are tested weekly.

"This is a deeply concerning time for our community. We are in touch with families frequently about our progress as we continue to manage this situation and provide daily updates on the status of our home," Extendicare said.

A previous outbreak at Starwood in the spring affected five staff members and no residents. Extendicare says the resurgence of the virus in the fall was an additional challenge.

"Ottawa was hit particularly hard with a resurgence of cases in the fall, causing unique challenges for the region’s public health labs, hospitals and long-term care homes," Extendicare said. 

Beyond Starwood and West End Villa, Extendicare also operates the Medex, New Orchard Lodge, and Laurier Manor homes in Ottawa.

In the spring, an outbreak at Laurier Manor claimed 25 residents' lives between April 13 and June 16.

A recent outbreak at Laurier Manor, which ended Nov. 9, claimed one life and affected 15 residents and 12 staff members.

Three outbreaks have been declared at Extendicare Medex since June, though no more than three positive test results have been confirmed in any of them so far and no one has died. An outbreak at Medex that began on Nov. 1 officially ended Nov. 13, Ottawa Public Health said Saturday afternoon, with a single staff member testing positive.

There has been one outbreak at New Orchard Lodge, which officially ended Nov. 10. One resident and three staff members had tested positive and no one died.

As of Nov. 13, 356 people in Ottawa have died of COVID-19 complications, with 313 of those deaths linked to outbreaks in institutions such as long-term care homes, retirement homes, and hospitals. 

More help needed from government, advocacy group says

Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, says the provincial government needs to do more to protect the residents and staff of Ontario's long-term care homes.

"Anyone who's had anyone in long-term care knows that prior to COVID-19, staffing was short, infrastructure was lacking and, really, it didn't meet the basic needs in many cases of the residents," Tamblyn Watts told CTV News in an interview on Saturday. "There have been small initiatives that this government has engaged in, but nothing in terms of that seismic shift that would really make a difference."

Tamblyn Watts points to promises made by the Ontario government to protect long-term care homes that aren't backed up by budget dollars.

The province pledged to provide nursing home residents with an average of four hours of daily direct care but Tamblyn Watts and other advocates say the recent budget does not explain how that will be done.

"When the budget came out quite recently, we were all looking to see where those infrastructure and staffing investments were going to be coming form. They government has been talking about four hours of care and then no money was actually allocated to it in the budget," she said.

Last week, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the government was committed to the plan but it was too soon to provide funding details since it had only received a report with recommendations from the province's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission two weeks prior.

"The financing will be there to support it," Phillips said. "But everybody would understand that we have to make sure that it's done in the right way and so that's going to take a lot of hard work."

With files from The Canadian Press.