Fighting COVID-19: a rare look inside an assisted-living facility during an outbreak

VANCOUVER —
They had prepared for it for months.

They say they did everything they could to stop it from getting in, but COVID-19 still found its way into Harrison Pointe in Langley, and staff say they were devastated.

“We were so disappointed. We had worked so hard,” said Christie Hansen, who works at the assisted living facility.

“I was afraid and I was angry that someone would bring it in here,” said 88-year-old Lorraine Brundrit, recalling how she felt after learning about the outbreak.

“You immediately wonder how long it’s going to last and how bad it’s going to hit,” general manager Glenn Bell said in an interview outside the Langley facility.

At the request of CTV News Vancouver, Bell documented some of what it took to get through the outbreak. His recordings offer a rare look inside a care facility dealing with COVID-19.

Video and pictures show a conference room turned into a swabbing facility for staff. Video also shows workers going door-to-door to swab residents, and carrying on with this task even during a power outage.

“We had no lights, no elevators so we were having to carry the trolleys up the stairs. We had to wear flashlights on our heads,” explained Hansen.

The outbreak began with a staff member who tested positive, but swabbing later confirmed residents were also infected.

One of them was 88-year-old Fred Roots.

“I had a sore throat and they said, ‘Maybe I better test you,’ and sure enough,” said Roots, who indicated he never became seriously ill, but worried the virus could spread to others in the home who might not fare as well.

Bell says the outbreak dragged on for weeks and just when staff members thought they might be in the clear, another case would pop up.

“You watch those results come in and they come in one at a time and negative, negative, negative and you’re down to the last couple and you get one positive and you realize we’ve got 15 more days of this,” said Bell. “And it’s not so bad for staff, it’s the poor residents and families locked up for 15 more days.”

That confinement was tough on residents used to getting out and about.

“Pretty well like being in jail, actually. It was tough. It frazzled the nerves a bit,” said 99-year-old Douglas Denyer.

Brundrit said it was isolating.

“I wanted to get out so badly at times,” she said.

“When you’re in your rooms, you’re by yourself. It can get boring,” Roots explained.

To help alleviate the boredom, Bell started an impromptu concert in the parking lot one day, playing guitar and singing for the residents who watched from their balconies.

Many staff would work weeks without a day off.

It would take 51 days, but when the outbreak finally ended, six staff and eight residents had tested positive. Not a single person had to be hospitalized. Nobody died.

“We did a ‘hooray,’” said Denyer of the reaction in the facility when the outbreak ended.

“I thought it (COVID-19) would go through the building like wildfire,” Brundit said. “They (staff) took every precaution. We had nothing to worry about really.”

Residents, appreciative of the staff, often left notes for them taped to the doors of their suites.

“When we were down at our lowest point, we’d have a new message somewhere in the building and it just fills your heart,” Hansen said.

This week, residents at Harrison Pointe were vaccinated and they hope with a second dose, they won’t face an outbreak again.