The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) feels the current COVID-19 assessment protocols for long-term care staff are sufficient to avoid infection risk of residents, but it will continue to consider ways to improve screening processes.
The Prairie Post requested information from the SHA about COVID-19 assessment protocols for a story published in the Jan. 15 edition of the paper, in which George Tsougrianis spoke about the experience of going through the pandemic while his mother lives at The Meadows long-term care facility.
His mother, 90-year-old Kay Tsougrianis, has been a long-term care resident since June 2018. He emphasized the family has been pleased with the care provided to her at The Meadows, but he expressed some concerns about the COVID-19 assessment protocols for healthcare workers.
The staff at The Meadows and other long-term care facilities follow the same assessment protocols as healthcare workers in other facilities such as hospitals. They are required to do a self-assessment to evaluate their fitness to work before the start of their shift. They must then continue to actively self-monitor for any symptoms and they need to complete twice daily temperature logs.
He cannot help but wonder if these measures are sufficient to prevent staff from entering the facility when they might be infected, but not yet showing symptoms.
“I know realistically that having a daily test of all the care workers that go into The Meadows every day is probably unrealistic, but I don’t think a self-assessment as the only tool to protect is enough,” he said. “So where’s the happy medium? For example, could they test once a week? That’s better than what it is now.”
The SHA provided a written, e-mailed response to the Prairie Post questions about the COVID-19 assessment protocols for healthcare workers.
“SHA employees are expected to complete the assessment tool and take their temperature prior to or on arrival,” the statement said. “They are also expected to sign off that they completed the self-assessment and self-monitoring daily, which includes twice daily temperatures.”
The SHA expressed confidence in these protocols, which are used for daily screening of the healthcare workforce in long-term care and continuing care facilities as well as in hospitals, clinics and other facilities.
“We believe these protocols are sufficient for now,” the SHA said. “However, we are always looking at ways to escalate active screening and may have more tools in place to improve the screening processes across the entire health system, not just in long term care.”
The SHA acknowledged that these protocols might not identify staff who are already infectious and not showing any COVID-19 symptoms yet.
“While staff screening policies may not alert someone who is asymptomatic and shows no obvious exposure signs, our continuous masking and additional PPE policies where necessary have been very effective at [sic] ensure both staff and patient safety,” the statement said.
The SHA will continue to consider the use of additional testing measures, including the use of rapid test kits, to supplement the existing COVID-19 assessment protocols for healthcare workers.
“SHA is continuously exploring ways to improve accurate and quicker testing results, including rapid testing kits,” the statement said. “If these types become deployable system-wide, then we will be sure to implement them as part of employee system wide testing where appropriate.”
A public health order (PHO) was issued in April 2020 for cohorting within long-term care to restrict the movement of staff between facilities. This is still happening and staff working at The Meadows are also cohorted.
“There have been multiple updates and changes made to the Public Health Order,” the SHA said. “However, it is still in effect and continues to include the requirement to cohort staff to a single LTC site. We are cohorting the staff to The Meadows and meeting the PHO.”
The SHA also highlighted other measures followed in long-term care facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.
“We have move-in criteria and protocols for new residents that include testing prior to move-in, isolation and precautions and close monitoring,” the statement said. “We are continuing with visitor screening, hand hygiene and PPE measures. We are assessing our homes on a continual basis to ensure preparedness and rigor in our safety and infection control practices and measures. We are closely monitoring and assessing residents for changes in conditions or symptoms.”