A Hope man has decided to stay home and care for his wife, as he isn’t confident the health care system can handle her care properly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For Jason Crosier’s wife Corinne, social distancing is impossible. Living with multiple sclerosis and homebound, Corinne requires nine hours of care from Fraser Health staff. This often involves around five to six staff members providing care in shifts every weekday Jason said.
Health care workers were providing Corinne with personal care, he said, including feeding, washing and other activities which entail workers coming into close contact with her. Since it became clear in the last weeks that COVID-19 had arrived in Canada, Jason has been trying to find out how home support is working to protect home health clients.
“When we’re looking at people that they’re providing home support to, these are the most vulnerable… these are the people that are most likely the fatalities of COVID-19” he said.
What Jason fears, he said, is that these workers aren’t being given enough preparation, guidance or personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
“The average person doesn’t know how ill-prepared the health care system is and they’re not ready for this at all, they weren’t even ready for regular standard daily operations as it was,” he said.
In response to questions from the Hope Standard, spokesperson with Fraser Health Aletta Vanderheyden stated the health authority is taking “critical steps” to ensure the safety of residents in the region. This includes “early identification of cases, prompt isolation, testing, monitoring and promoting social distance, frequent hand washing and disinfecting of surfaces and advocating to stay home whenever possible,” she stated.
Each staff member is expected to self-assess for symptoms, and should they experience symptoms they are told to stay away from work and notify their supervisor, Vanderheyden stated. Staff are also being informed about COVID-19, Vanderheyden added, through “small team huddles, group education sessions and electronic information.”
“As the situation continues to evolve, we continue to refine how we support staff and ensure they have what they need to support clients,” she added.
Jason said he has decided to stay home to protect Corinne, as well as protect home health workers who he says give care to a wide range of clients in the community.
“That web spreads pretty far and pretty fast when these workers are going from house to house all day,” he said of the potential for one case of COVID-19 to spread.
Jason worries home health workers aren’t being provided the necessary personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, and he’s not alone. An emergency physician and a home-support worker in Abbotsford raised the alarm last week. The home-support worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they have gone without sanitizer for weeks and have no masks or gowns.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the shortage of protective equipment a “wicked problem,” adding some solutions being looked at include grouping patients infected with COVID-19, sourcing from other countries and possibly cleaning and reusing some of this equipment.
Vanderheyden said community health workers are being provided the appropriate equipment. What this looks like now, after a March 26 provincial directive, is a surgical mask and eye protection as well as other equipment depending “on the clients symptoms and tasks being performed.”
Before this, personal protective equipment such as masks were given to community health workers “only when the client was symptomatic,” Vanderheyden stated.
Jason is also wondering how Corinne’s health needs at the hospital will be taken care of – she goes in at least twice a month, he said. He has to speak with his family doctor about a contingency plan, for how to care for her health needs as the health system responds to the coronavirus.
Facing an unclear economic future
Jason has been home since March 17 and expects to be home for three weeks at least, with no pay. While he’s got some savings and acknowledges he is better off than most, staying home means he also doesn’t know what his employment situation will look like if and when he returns.
But it is something he’s prepared to risk.
“For me to go and change out some windshields for someone, and risk the chances of bringing something like that virus into my home is not worth it,” he said, adding that Corinne would be particularly susceptible to COVID-19 as she is already very prone to infections. And it’s a choice he believes many others are in the process of making.
“There’s a lot of people out there that have to take this time, or might want to take this time because they don’t know how much time they have left with someone,” he said.
Yet seeing few in the community taking the pandemic seriously, Crosier keeps questioning whether his choice will make a difference.
“If we just stopped as a community and put the brakes on and did the bare minimum, like leave the grocery store open, you’d see a difference. People would be forced to do nothing but stay home. And that’s how you get to flattening the curve,” he said.
Jason also wants to see the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the Fraser Health region broken down by community. Knowing there are cases in Hope, Crosier believes, would make people think more seriously about preventative action.
“It helps people understand that it’s touching them and it’s near them, and they maybe need to think about how they’re conducting their behaviour,” he said. “You’d have people sitting at home a little more often and thinking twice about what’s going on.”
To date, provincial health officials have not detailed which communities have cases of COVID-19. Instead, the numbers of confirmed cases in each health region are announced daily.
Community health bracing for need
Fraser Health has over 10,000 home care clients in the region stretching from Delta to Hope. To prepare for the pandemic, Vanderheyden stated some clients with lower care needs and family support may get calls from local managers to ask whether these families can provide support and free up capacity “for when it’s needed.”
The health authority is also preparing should more care be needed in long-term care homes. They are “striving to balance” caring for community clients and those in long-term care Vanderheyden stated.