Thomas Wellner, President and Chief Executive Officer
Early in January 2020, I met with our Senior Leadership Team in the boardroom of Revera’s Mississauga, Ontario head office to prepare for our annual risk management review exercise. Like a corporate fire drill, the review involves an assessment of our readiness in the face of hypothetical events or situations that might impact our business operations – including a pandemic. Little did I realize at the time that just a few weeks later we would kick off our live pandemic preparedness plan in real time.
By mid-February, as the novel coronavirus was taking a brutal toll in Italy, we began holding daily emergency meetings to ensure the stability of the care, support and service we provide to 20,000 seniors in long term care homes and retirement residences in Canada. Based on the COVID-19 experience in Europe, and what we’d learned from SARS nearly two decades ago, we also focused our efforts on doing our part to protect Canada’s hospitals, given the understandable concerns that they might run out of beds, ventilators and overall surge capacity.
As a result, during the initial phase of the pandemic’s first wave, we relied on public health directives and our normal influenza outbreak protocols to both screen and restrict entry into our seniors’ communities. We believed these measures could block the introduction of this new pathogen and control its spread. But they could not. We now know that community spread and asymptomatic transmission had devastating effects.
In the trying months since, we – along with the rest of the world – have learned a great deal about the challenges of containing this highly infectious virus, lessons that have come by way of so much mental and economic hardship, and a tragic loss of life around the globe. In Canada, we now know that most of the country’s COVID-19 deaths occurred among seniors living in congregate centres. It is a painful reality that has pushed many questions to the forefront, questions I personally feel must be urgently answered to make sure this never happens again.
For this reason, we at Revera (which also provides care and accommodation for 46,000 seniors in congregate homes across the United States and the United Kingdom) felt compelled to review why the pandemic had such a lamentable impact on the lives of our residents and staff in the first wave. Its toll on our frontline care teams, and the grief we share with residents and their families, drove us, as an organization, to take extraordinary steps of self-reflection.
Among these steps was the decision we made in early June to make the unorthodox move of engaging a panel of independent experts from diverse fields of health care to explore what happened in our homes during the first wave, and how we could prevent the pandemic from causing further suffering. With the fight against the virus still fresh in our minds as the second wave loomed, we chose to open our internal files and data to outsiders – almost in real time – so that the solutions they prescribed could be applied immediately to counter the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
To ensure the report findings and recommendations were written in a way that made the panel’s findings accessible to the public, Revera employees, residents and their families, the company engaged a noted health writer to draft the report based on the consultations with the experts. Dr. Bell, in his role as Chair of the Expert Advisory Panel, retained final editorial control, working directly with the writer to finalize the report.
My hope is that the panel’s observations and recommendations offer as much insight as possible to allow us to respond and restore confidence in congregate living as a highly relevant choice for seniors to consider as they age. There can be little doubt about the need for the services assisted living provides: In Ontario alone, more than 79,000 people are currently waiting for one of the 80,000 long term care beds in the province.
The enormous number of seniors waiting for a place in a congregate setting also fuelled our decision to take the unusual step of sharing this report from Revera’s Expert Advisory Panel outside of Revera for the greater good. Our hope is that other operators across the sector may learn from our experience and find value in the panel’s recommendations, and that the families of our residents, as well as the broader public, may gain a deeper understanding of how the pandemic affected the long term care sector, and of our determination to improve through the wisdom of hindsight.
From my perspective, the tragic consequences of the pandemic must be regarded as a once-in-a-century opportunity to accelerate changes both inside and outside our residences to better the systems in which the sector operates. After all, I believe we all share the common desire to make sure that the highest quality of life is considered paramount at any age.
This pandemic has caused us all to re-examine what we value and prioritize in our lives. I lost a grandmother myself during these past months, and the emotional void of being unable to comfort her in person as she passed, or to celebrate her life together with others, has been painful. Our family hopes to gather with her ashes in Fortune, PEI, next year, to pay tribute to her.
My own experience of this personal loss has added to the empathy and huge respect I have always had for the frontline staff who support and comfort the seniors who call Revera home, especially during this year of relentless stress. In conversations that I’ve had with several staff members, it’s clear that one of the toughest aspects of the pandemic has been the mental toll of the measures taken to boost infection control. Lockdowns and beyond have impeded the ability of staff to connect with residents and their families as they usually do, hampering even the opportunity to grieve together in person. In normal times, the comfort and support we provide our residents is through touch of hands and arms, and through visible smiles. Our care teams across the Revera network are the backbone of the intimate relationships we share with our residents.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our staff for their selfless efforts as they continue to support our residents and their families, and also to express deep gratitude for the time, energy, insight and guidance that our panel experts freely gave in preparing this report. I would also like to acknowledge our residents and their families and thank them for their support during this difficult time.
Through the eyes of an operator that experienced the COVID-19 fight head-on, within the context of the healthcare and social systems in which we all exist, my sincere hope is that readers will find this report illuminating and helpful as the pandemic rages on. We appreciate the recommendations made here and look forward to implementing them.
Be well. Be safe. Don’t forget to wash your hands.
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This report is dedicated to Revera’s employees, residents, their families, and all those on the front lines of the senior living sector who are working through the worst pandemic in living history.
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