Family may need to help care for loved ones in two southern Manitoba personal care homes

Family members who have loved ones living at two personal care homes in Manitoba's Southern Health region tell CTV News they have been given the heads-up they may need to help with care starting next week.

The two homes are Salem Home in Winkler, Man. and Tabor Home in Morden, Man.

“My feeling is such that I feel that I should not be expressing it in its entirety. It’s a negative feeling,” said Carol Derksen, whose 98-year-old mother Helena Martin lives at Salem Home.

She said she received a letter detailing what she may have to do come Monday when mandatory COVID-19 vaccination or routine COVID-19 testing for front-line health-care staff comes into effect in the province.

“For the next while they would not be admitting anybody else,” she said. “And that the persons that are here, and they specifically mentioned my mother, that they would request that family caregivers come in and help feed and do laundry and general things like that.”

Derksen said it is because the personal care home is very short-staffed, partially due to people who are not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“That troubles me,” she said.

On Friday, Manitoba’s Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she did not have the final number of health-care workers who remain unvaccinated in the province, but said the number is small and there are pockets.

“Southern is of course one of those areas,” Gordon said. “We continue to work with Shared Health and the regional health authority to communicate information regarding testing, the science behind the effectiveness of the vaccine to allay the fears of individuals who are still vaccine or testing hesitant.”

Gordon said there are many contingency plans being looked at regarding staffing shortages due to the vaccine mandate.

“One of them is to make family members aware that their assistance may be required, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the case, but we certainly wanted to make the family members aware that that is one of the contingency plans that we may need to put in place,” Gordon said.

She said she will be meeting with representatives from Southern Health Friday to discuss other contingency plans.

Jane Curtis, Southern Health-Sante Sud CEO, said the region has a good idea of who is vaccinated but there other parts they are trying to determine.

“That’s because people are in flux right now. They are trying to decide about vaccination and if they’ve made that decision, now they are trying to decide about testing, so the number is fluid,” she said.

Curtis said site managers have a better idea who is or isn’t vaccinated, and who will be doing the routine testing and who won’t be.

Curtis added Southern Health has other contingency plans ready, including staff on stand-by who will be redeployed into sites if it starts looking like there will not be enough staff to care.

“We’re looking at things as simple as our menus and ramping down some of our menus so they are easier recipes to produce,” she said.

“We have a lot of confidence about who is going to come in because they’ve told us.”

Curtis said they are hoping for the best, but at the same time have plans in place if they need to be implemented.

In a joint statement to CTV News, Salem Home and Tabor Home said throughout the pandemic they have remained transparent with families regarding developments, especially during times of outbreak or when visitor guidelines change.

“It is in this context that we shared with families our uncertainty regarding possible outcomes on October 18, once the orders re. mandatory vaccine/testing for health care workers are implemented,” said the statement.

"We know families have responsibilities and obligations outside of their loved one’s residence at our personal care home. Our intent was to open the dialogue and to seek preferences or possible options from families, as they are able.”

The homes also said they will continue with contingency planning to ensure adequate staffing is in place.

“Our commitment to residents, families and the community remains focused on continuing to deliver quality and safe care as we work through this situation.”

Derksen wonders who will care for her mother if Salem Home doesn’t have enough staff on Monday.

“I cannot personally care for my mother. I did it as long as I could along with my sister-in-law,” Derksen said.

She told CTV News her husband is also being cared for in another personal care home whom she is concerned about as well.

“She is here. We are paying for her to be looked after. Everybody has a right to pursue freedom and happiness and their rights, but I think when their rights infringe upon someone else’s rights I think they need to check themselves a bit.”

Derksen said she hopes some of her siblings will step up to help care for their mother if it’s needed.