A dementia care facility in Christchurch has been identified as one of 12 key clusters of Covid-19 cases, and it's prompted a scramble for experienced aged care staff.
Four staff and 12 residents from Rosewood Rest Home & Hospital in Linwood have either tested positive for the virus, or been identified as probable cases - becoming the second cluster in an aged care facility after Hamilton's Atawhai Assisi Rest Home.
It comes three weeks after rest homes and retirement villages began banning visitors to shut out the virus and despite most aged care facilities being "well ahead of the game" in their preparations to avoid an outbreak, according to chief executive of the Aged Care Association, Simon Wallace.
"It's always really concerning when we have a situation like this, particularly in an aged care setting where we know that our older population is most vulnerable and most susceptible to the virus," Wallace said.
Dealing with the cluster
How the virus got into the dementia care unit remains unclear, but contact tracing is underway to find out.
At the daily Ministry of Health briefing at the Beehive, Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield told media senior clinical staff were at the facility today, assessing the situation.
Twenty residents from the hospital's dementia wing had been moved to a new "bubble" at Burwood Hospital south of Christchurch to be cared for in the interim by Canterbury District Health board staff.
Dr Bloomfield said the health board was also taking precautions to look after 44 residents who remain in their rooms.
"They have put a DHB person into the rest home to supervise the care of the remaining around forty residents, to make sure that appropriate infection prevention control - including appropriate use of PPE - is happening there, and to look after and care for those other remaining residents," he said.
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The difficulty now is finding enough staff to care for those 44 residents, while existing staff move into isolation.
In a statement this afternoon, Canterbury DHB said it was helping to identify experienced replacements, but it may have to consider relocating more residents if not enough can be found.
Wallace said staffing in aged care facilities had been the number one concern of the Aged Care Association throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
"With the situation in Christchurch, and as we've seen in Hamilton and other places, when we get an outbreak in a rest home it is the staffing issue that is the most critical," he said.
"In both those cases there's been great support from the district health board and from staff working double rosters, so the situations are being managed. But it's always the most difficult challenge to deal with."
'Stay connected' with loved ones
The chief executive of Age Concern Canterbury, Simon Templeton, said it would be a tough time for the families and friends of people living in Rosewood Rest Home & Hospital, as it was for anyone with a loved one in a rest home who they currently could not visit.
But he said people could take comfort in the fact aged care facilities were well prepared to manage regular bouts of illness like flu season, and were doing all that they could to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Templeton urged people to stay in touch with any elderly loved ones who they couldn't see in person.
"Families can still stay connected. We encourage them to stay connected over the phone or potentially, with staff help, through video calls so those older people can still see their family members and be involved regularly," he said.
The owner of Rosewood Rest Home & Hospital, Malcolm Tucker, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Ministry of Health is treating all residents in Rosewood Rest Home & Hospital as close contacts who will be tested if they display Covid-19 symptoms.
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