COVID Rips Through Jewish Retirement Home

Nov. 12, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Coronavirus has ripped through a Toronto Jewish retirement home, infecting all but one of the residents and leading to the deaths of several elderly patients.

147 Elder Street, a retirement home that cares for seniors with dementia, has seen 45 of its 46 residents test positive for the virus, with one test still pending.

147 Elder Street, North York, Ontario (source: 147elder.com)

Seven residents have died, since the outbreak started in mid-October and six residents are currently in hospital, Krista Samborsky, director of resident and family relations, wrote in an email sent to family members on Nov. 11.

According to a report posted Nov. 9 by Toronto Public Health, 25 staff at the retirement home have also tested positive for the virus.

“This is a devastating virus that is severely impacting us right now,” Samborsky wrote to families. “While loss of life is a natural part of 147 Elder Street, our team is impacted particularly deeply by these events.”

The home, located in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in North York, advertises that it serves “the Jewish and general community.”

The source of the virus’s spread has not been pinpointed, but “in all likelihood it is a combination of factors, combined with the high transmission rate of the virus in the community, the prevalence of dementia in our home and our high staffing ratios,” the email to families stated.

The home did not have any COVID cases during the first wave of the pandemic. Since this outbreak started, staff from Humber River Hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Team have been at the home daily to review operations and make recommendations. The hospital has also sent doctors and nurses to the home to treat residents, Samborsky said in an email to the CJR.

The home has increased staffing and has added more personal support workers than usual. Staff compensation has been increased to retain staff, and accommodation has been offered to employees who are not comfortable going home due to the health status of their families, Samborsky said.

Sue-Ann Levy, whose 91-year-old father lives at 147 Elder and has been diagnosed with COVID, said the home had taken every precaution to keep residents safe since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I think they did everything they possibly could to keep it (COVID) out and in my view, unfortunately it was just dumb luck,” Levy told the CJR.

In the early days of the pandemic in the spring, the home required caregivers to work at only one facility, before the province mandated it. Visitors were carefully screened and had to have a negative COVID test and wear full protective gear before entering the facility, Levy said.

Since the outbreak, the home has conducted testing regularly and involved Humber River Hospital early on.

Levy, a columnist with the Toronto Sun, said she has written stories about families with loved ones in long-term care where they hear nothing from the home for four or five days, a situation she calls “unacceptable.”

In her case, she and her brother have received two emails and two phone calls a day about their father.

The home operates on a model that encourages residents not to isolate in their rooms, which has been “wonderful” for her outgoing father, Levy said.

“But that kind of formula leads to a very quick spread and unfortunately, that’s probably what has happened,” she said.

Residents are now isolated in private rooms. While family visits have been suspended, the home was working with authorities to allow one designated caregiver per resident to enter, Samborsky said, 

Levy said she plans on visiting her father this Friday, with a negative COVID test in hand. “My dad has dementia, as does everyone else, and they feel it would be good emotionally for him,” she said.

The toll at the home has been sobering, but not unexpected, Levy added.

“I said this all along throughout the summer, having covered all this, that if it got into a dementia facility, it would be a nightmare and now, we’re living it.”