Simkin Centre nursing home in Winnipeg slammed by COVID outbreak among staff

Resident at the Simkin Centre in Winnipeg
A resident at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre in Winnipeg reacts to the latest COVID outbreak mostly among staff at the Jewish long term care home. (Facebook).

Winnipeg’s largest Jewish long-term care home, the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre, is dealing with a substantial COVID outbreak. It started before Christmas, with a couple of staff members who worked in different parts of the facility, including the kitchen and two of the residents’ wings. 

This latest wave saw the number of positive cases now up to 24 people, mostly all staff, but also a volunteer, and one resident are ill.

“We recognize the impact this outbreak has had on all our residents,” Simkin CEO Laurie Cerqueti wrote in an email to families, explaining how they can make appointments to use FaceTime to communicate with the residents who are now in lockdown. “We encourage you to continue to reach out to loved ones.” 

Because of staff shortages at the 200-bed facility, that meant services like tub baths and showers for the residents were cut, and residents were being encouraged to wear the same clothes for two days in a row, or just hospital gowns. All outside visits were also stopped, but now some designated caregivers can come back. 

“Our staff are doing their best with ongoing staffing challenges,” Cerqueti said in her email. That meant asking people to work overtime, and getting outside help.

With so many workers off sick and in isolation, the home appealed for retired health care workers to lend a hand, and also requested volunteers to come in and help with feeding residents. 

“We have more staff who have tested positive now than in all seven weeks of the second wave a year ago,” Cerqueti said in an interview with The CJN. “We’ve been hit hard.”

The one resident who has become ill with the virus has been placed into a reactivated isolation unit.

“The resident is stable at this time,” said Cerqueti. “We expect her to recover soon.”

All other residents on her floor have been told to stay in their rooms, she added; staff are bringing them meals and providing one-on-one recreation and spiritual care.

To help cover for the staff who are sick, the Centre is allowing designated caregivers to provide assistance to residents.

“We provide them with training and PPE (personal protective equipment),” Cerqueti said, noting they must all be vaccinated. “We also inform them of the risks,” she said.

Cerqueti is grateful for offers of assistance from the Jewish community, including from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

With the quarantine restriction having been changed from 10 days to five, Cerqueti anticipates some staff will be coming back soon.

“But the staff are resilient, the residents are amazing and the families are supportive, so that’s wonderful,” she said, adding the centre is in a much better place this year with the availability of vaccines.

“It’s amazing how everyone is pulling together,” she said, praising staff who have been putting in extra shifts and overtime.

If more staff get sick, it will put a big strain on the centre, she acknowledged. That could result in a call for help to the wider Jewish community.

Right now, “we’re doing the best we can,” she said.

Some residents of the Simkin 2 wing showed their reaction to their latest lockdown, by posing for photographs earlier this week and holding up handmade signs that read: “Happy New Year LOL”, and “2022 Oy Vey!”. You can see the gallery on the Simkin Centre’s Facebook page.

Just a few months ago, on Oct. 27, 2021, the Simkin Centre held an in-person memorial service for the 11 residents who died of COVID during the initial phases of the pandemic. A memorial stone was erected outside the facility with the patients’ names. They were among 30 people who contracted the virus. The facility has not had an outbreak for a year.