It has been nearly four weeks since COVID-19 first struck Bethesda Place in Steinbach.

Cheryl Harrison is Executive Director for Southern Health. She says the first positive case to a resident was noted on August 16th. Since then, the number of cases in that outbreak has jumped to 13, including six residents and seven staff. Four of those residents have passed away.

Harrison says their last positive test was reported on August 30th and they are cautiously optimistic there are no more coming.

"Staff are considerably overwhelmed with the length of time that it takes to respond to a positive COVID," says Harrison. "However, they have pulled together and continue to provide residents the best care they can."

Harrison explains that as soon as a positive COVID-19 test was received, all residents were isolated to their rooms. All residents and staff were then tested within a surveillance testing approach. This was done to mitigate further transmission.

The Executive Director says there are other precautions that are being taken to prevent the spread. This includes personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning and then the single site personal care home (PCH) public health order, which limits staff members to a single PCH.

"Certainly strategies such as those will be effective in mitigating further transmission of COVID," suggests Harrison.

She notes for residents, being isolated within their room is exactly opposite of what they have come to love about the PCH experience.

"One of the benefits is the social recreational group activities that a personal care home offers that certainly improves the experiences for seniors," says Harrison. "So, being isolated in one's room is certainly not an experience that they are accustomed to."

According to Harrison, this adds challenges not only for residents but also staff. She notes it increases their workload and efficiencies. For example, feeding each resident in their room is a lot more work than having them all come to the dining room for meals.

But, Harrison says staffing numbers at that PCH are still at the level deemed necessary by the regional health authority.

"We are certainly meeting the staff guidelines," she assures.

Harrison says thankfully they have been able to pull staff from other acute care facilities and community programs. Bethesda Place also continues to have staff assist from the hospital.

"We're again overwhelmed with the support from staff from Bethesda Regional Health Centre," she says. "Staff come during their lunch breaks and volunteer to feed residents because that's an experience that we want to ensure that residents continue to enjoy."

In addition, community mental health workers are coming in to support the mental and emotional needs of residents. And further to that, Harrison says they are fortunate that the province is allowing for designated family caregivers to assist with helping their loved ones. During this time of COVID-19, the province is allowing residents to designate up to two individuals to provide care for them.

"The designated family caregiver is recognized as a partner in resident care," explains Harrison. "A selected number of residents have designated family caregivers that can certainly assist with that."

Harrison says the regional health authority is so fortunate to have staff that are so dedicated to the care of residents.

Meanwhile, Harrison says families are being provided regular updates on the status with the PCH. She notes Bethesda Place continues to receive a lot of positive feedback from families. Further to that, she says some residents that will be returning to the PCH after being hospitalized are happy to be coming home.