Musician Pat Chessell keeps the residents of Columbus House entertained at an outdoor social event. Agnieszka Ruck

Fast work keeps seniors out of harm’s way

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 26, 2020

VANCOUVER -- As Canada tops 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, a distressing figure has emerged: more than 80 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths have been seniors living in long-term care homes.

The figure, the highest among 14 surveyed countries and double the proportion in the U.S., has sparked political debate about the future of nursing homes in Canada and the possibility of government taking over private homes.

In contrast, a group of six B.C. seniors homes operated by the Knights of Columbus has to date emerged untouched by the coronavirus, and its president credits an early, rapid and thorough response with keeping the new virus away from residents.

Mike Garisto said there have been zero positive COVID-19 cases or deaths among the 323 residents at Columbus Homes’ facilities.

Speaking with The B.C. Catholic at a short outdoor event with live music, cheering for health-care workers and socializing two metres apart, Garisto said, “We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to maintain here.”

Founded by the Knights of Columbus, Columbus Homes runs affordable housing for seniors in Chilliwack, Delta, Prince Rupert and Vancouver. All the facilities offer independent living, while Millennium Tower near Guardian Angels Parish in Vancouver includes some assisted living.

When news of the virus and its danger to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions broke this spring, all residences immediately imposed strict measures to keep their people safe.

“We started early, we sanitized early,” said Garisto. “It was a message to our residents that we are taking this seriously and we encourage you to also take it seriously.”

Columbus Homes ramped up cleaning of “high-touch points” like door handles and elevator buttons and hired a sanitizing company operated by a B.C. Knight to complete thorough deep cleans.

“There was a need for us to respond quickly so we can do what we can do prevent an outbreak,” said Garisto.

Columbus Homes closed its doors to all visitors and, in locations with shared meals, scheduled two seatings for each mealtime so fewer residents would be in the dining hall at a time while keeping two-metre spacing between each other.

Unlike other areas where care staff working at multiple locations of long-term care homes contributed to the spread of COVID-19, Columbus Homes personnel were not allowed to travel among locations, save for a couple of maintenance people who had to do emergency repairs, said Garisto.

Garisto estimates the Columbus Charities Association (the charity that runs Columbus Homes) had to pull at least $25,000 out of its budget for extra cleaning, personal protective equipment and other measures needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isaac Kendall, resident relations manager at Columbus Lodge in Delta, said some residents found it difficult to cope with the new measures.

“We worked through it, though, and it only took a couple of days before everybody accepted it and understood that it’s a bit of a cross to bear for the greater good. It’s a little bit of inconvenience just to keep everybody safe,” he said.

Now that the provincial government is loosening restrictions, Columbus Homes is cautiously doing so as well.

But COVID-19 may have a lasting impact on the residences, leaving staff with a heightened awareness of what it means to protect their residents.

“We always did maintain a fairly high standard,” Garisto said, but “we’re learning things about sanitizing and we’ll probably be naturally more conscious of touch points and contact areas as a matter of practice.”

(The B.C. Catholic)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

In my State of Missouri in the US, approximately 9% of the deaths are people under the age of 60. Those over 70 are taking the bulk of the deaths. The media does not speak of this since it does not support their messaging.

D John
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