Grace Villa operator ‘saddened’ workers felt they lacked resources

·4 min read

Grace Villa’s operator responded Tuesday to horrific reports of understaffing, deplorable sanitation and neglect inside the home’s recent COVID outbreak, while critics joined calls to revoke the company’s licence.

The Spectator reported on tragic conditions exposed by workers in correspondence to Hamilton MPP Monique Taylor. The letters, which Taylor released Monday, describe in graphic detail the disturbing conditions inside the city’s biggest and deadliest outbreak.

In an email late Tuesday, APANS Health Services addressed the allegations for the first time.

“The safety of our residents, staff and family members is paramount and these statements are deeply concerning,” said CEO Mary Raithby. “We are continually reviewing our response throughout the outbreak. We will continue to listen to the best advice in our sector to determine where we can make enhancements to further protect our residents and staff.”

She said, “Our utmost concern is for those in our home.”

“Everyone at Grace Villa is continuing to pour their hearts and energy into their work each day,” Raithby continued. “We are humbled by their dedication and are saddened that some may have felt they did not have the resources or support as needed to do their jobs.”

She added, “Our leadership team is working tirelessly to ensure everyone has the knowledge, training and resources to safely care for our residents now and in the future.”

More than a quarter of the home’s 156 residents died in less than two months. Grace Villa had 234 cases — including 144 resident, 88 staff and two visitor cases — and 44 deaths from Nov. 25 to Jan. 20.

Though the outbreak ended last Wednesday, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) still holds management powers at the east Mountain home through a provincial order. Taylor, who represents Hamilton Mountain, said the letters came from workers worried what would happen when HHS leaves the facility.

The letters described “chaos, confusion and outright neglect” while workers “begged and cried for help.”

“It was heartbreaking, traumatizing and it was criminal,” one read.

The letters were anonymized to protect workers from reprisal and because they weren’t authorized to speak with media.

“Every single room was trashed,” a worker wrote, describing cardboard boxes “overflowing” with “dirty PPE, soiled briefs and food trays, many of them untouched.”

A McMaster University professor supported Taylor and SEIU Healthcare’s calls for APANS Health Services’ licence to be revoked, calling it “appalling neglect.”

“It’s absolutely abhorrent to read of the conditions at Grace Villa,” said Amit Arya, assistant professor in palliative care. “It’s unimaginable suffering and grief.”

On Sunday, Conservative MPP Donna Skelly, who represents Flamborough-Glanbrook, announced new provincial funding for local seniors’ homes, including Grace Villa, to cover “eligible expenses” for proper screening, staffing, equipment and supplies, and infection control. Grace Villa was allotted $124,000, bringing its total “prevention and containment support” to more than $1 million.

In an email Tuesday, Skelly called the allegations at Grace Villa “disturbing,” adding they were “being looked into” by the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

An emailed statement from the ministry said the province worked with the city and health organizations to address the outbreak at the Lockton Crescent home.

“We take the safety of long-term-care residents very seriously,” said press secretary Krystle Caputo, noting the province invested $1.38 billion to support homes, including through orders that allow hospitals and infection control teams to manage outbreaks.

Caputo added the ministry has worked directly with local public health, the LHIN and HHS “throughout the pandemic.”

“In addition to improving the home’s infection prevention and control measures and educating staff on the proper use of PPE, the hospital is providing staffing for the home,” Caputo said. “The home has an adequate supply of PPE, and N95 masks are available when needed.”

“We remain committed to doing everything we can, along with our partners, to help stabilize the home and have it return to normal operations.”

On Monday, Hamilton’s medical officer of health said the city called for support at Grace Villa, connected the facility with HHS to improve staffing and carried out inspections.

“Our job is to look at the infection control and disease control aspects,” said Dr. Elizabeth Richardson. “The care of the residents in the home is the responsibility of the home and ... the Ministry of Long-Term Care.”

“Our hearts go out to all of those who have family in long-term care and especially those who have experienced the challenges of a bad outbreak such as that,” she said.

“It’s a circumstance that none of us would want our loved ones to experience and none of us would want to go through.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator