By STEVE ARNOLD
HAMILTON – This city’s Jewish seniors’ facility remains COVID-free, but the cost of that victory is weighing heavily on the non-profit institution.
Larry Levin, acting CEO of Shalom Village, said in an interview that 10 weeks of twice daily symptom checks of staff and residents, a complete ban on visitors, and more than a little luck have kept the home’s doors closed to an infection sweeping Ontario’s other long-term care facilities.
“If anyone shows a symptom that staff feel is on the spectrum for this virus, then we pretty quickly call public health to come in and swab them,” he said. “We’ve taken this threat seriously from the very beginning so we have always been a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of locking down the facility.”
Anyone seeking to enter the facility “is being asked a long list of questions to investigate any possibility of exposure to the virus.”
That precaution extends to delivery drivers with packages to the home.
“We just won’t accept anything unless they pass through the same screening as everyone else, and even if they do we’ll still disinfect the exterior of the package and let it sit for some suitable time before it goes to a resident,” said Levin.
Those rigid policies, he told a recent town hall meeting for residents and supporters, aren’t going to end any time soon.
“We are going to continue to hold the line on our no-visitors policy and the reasons for that are obvious,” he said. “We just won’t take the chance that anyone could possibly bring COVID into Shalom Village.”
Levin said in an interview that keeping such a tight lid on the home, which combines a 127-bed long-term care unit with 81 apartments, means expensive demands for staff time, personal protective equipment, and rigid monitoring.
“Our budget is struggling, as is the budget of any other long-term care facility,” he said. “This makes our financial picture a very difficult one on a number of different levels.”
Under the current model, homes such as Shalom Village are funded through rents charged for the apartment units, provincial per diem amounts for nursing home care and food, and fundraising.
COVID, however, has both raised costs and sliced into revenue because, while long-term care beds are full, some apartments are going vacant.
“The long-term care units are always pretty full, but some of the apartments are vacant because we can’t show them to potential residents,” Levin explained. “That loss of rental income is just another factor we have to face in dealing with COVID.”
Levin said Shalom Village is relying more than usual on its fundraising while hoping the Ontario government comes through with increased grants.
“Government does provide some funding, but even during normal times it is not sufficient,” he said. “Government support is minimal from the staffing point of view and just as minimal from the stand point of food.”
Levin said a provincial inquiry into the long-term care home system would involve Shalom Village and its leadership.
“We will contribute to that because we want to make sure that the government understands how years of underfunding have helped to create problems that are apparent during this crisis,” he said.
“Not everything is the fault of government, but a good part of it is,” he told the town hall meeting. “We want to make sure government understands this and makes the necessary changes so we have a higher level of care in our system.”
The COVID pandemic hit just as the Shalom Village board was gearing up to search for a new CEO.
Levin, a Hamilton dentist with a long history of community service (his wife Jacki is current president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation), took over as acting CEO of the home in March.