As communities across Alberta continue opening up, community disability services are experiencing a growing number of staff and individuals testing positive for COVID. Although outbreak rates in the sector have remained low – thanks to health measures implemented by service providers and the daily vigilance of frontline staff – the rise in COVID-positive sites has created new issues or amplified existing concerns.
Reporting positive COVID cases to PDD: In addition to the expectation for agencies to inform PDD when individuals in service test positive for COVID, PDD staff in some regions have requested agencies to also report positive COVID test results for staff. The rationale for the request was initially unclear and the level of information requested has been inconsistent, creating challenges for service providers already over-burdened by mandatory reporting and administrative protocols.
At yesterday’s meeting, we were informed that PDD has identified an alternative source for some data. Therefore, effective immediately, PDD no longer requires services providers to report positive COVID results for staff. Reporting for individuals in service is still required; a more streamlined process for this, consistent across all regions, is expected to be rolled out by the end of next week. Agencies will receive a form for data input and an FAQ to explain the process from their regional PDD office. We have requested that PDD regional offices share the aggregated data with regional service provider councils so that agencies can help support each other if needed.
Data on positive test results helps PDD in its risk management, by identifying trends and local “hot spots”, alerting government of potential threats to program stability, and supporting early response to manage impacts. ACDS supports the need for data collection for these purposes, however, we will continue to advocate for early communication, clarity, consistency, and reasonableness in the level of information requested.
Staffing issues in residential sites with positive COVID cases: Service providers are getting inconsistent guidance from Alberta Health on whether asymptomatic staff should isolate or continue to work at a PDD home in which either a staff or a resident has tested positive for COVID. Service providers (e.g., that operate designated sites) who have dealt directly with AHS’ Communicable Disease Control have received more consistent information. ACDS has requested Community and Social Services (CSS) to advocate Alberta Health to ensure all PDD home operators receive clear guidance.
We are also hearing from several agencies that, at homes where a positive COVID case is reported, staff are either choosing not to work or requesting a wage top-up to work. Service providers in these situations are reporting that they are incurring unbudgeted costs related to coverage (relief or overtime) due to 14-day isolation required of staff who are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID, and if they elect to provide wage top-ups. As social interactions increase in communities across Alberta, the likelihood of residential sites with positive COVID cases – and concurrent staffing costs – are also likely to increase.
ACDS is advocating CSS that these unbudgeted costs be considered and allowed to be claimed under COVID expenses. This is in addition to several conversations we have previously had with CSS officials, staff in Minister Sawhney’s office, and Minister Sawhney directly, about the staffing impacts in the sector and the need to provide wage top-up funding to address staff retention issues.
Availability of masks and gloves: Some service providers are reporting that obtaining masks is a financial barrier for the individuals they support; other agencies have told us this is not an issue. We asked at yesterday’s meeting if CSS/PDD would consider providing reusable masks for clients, or assist in a procurement process for a supplier to provide a volume discount to agencies.
CSS has asserted that individuals are responsible to get their own masks. For the use of staff at work, agencies can continue to access masks and other PPE via the Provincial Operations Centre. Agencies have reported a shortage in medium sized gloves; CSS will follow up on this.
Testing and contact tracing timelines: There continues to be a wide variance – from 24 hours to as long as 6 days – that agencies are reporting for staff to get tested, and even longer to hear from contact tracers. We were told that AHS has increased staffing resources for these functions and the timelines should improve. Faster response can be obtained if staff: inform the testing technician that they are a disability care worker; sign up for MyHealth ID; or contact their family doctor after testing to get results faster.
PDD and FSCD program data: CSS will be updating existing, and adding more, PDD and FSCD program data on the Alberta Government Open Data Portal within the next week or so. Data will be current up to June 2020, and will be updated quarterly. For each data type, resources will consist of a raw data file, a data visualization file with charts analysing the information over time, by region, etc., and a data dictionary describing each of the variables and fields used. We expect to get more information about this in the next little while, and will share it with you as soon as we can.
The need for data sharing has been a long-standing part of ACDS’ advocacy to PDD. We are glad to see that CSS is following through on its commitment to greater program transparency so that we have a shared understanding of program trends and can contribute to the collaborative effort to proactively address trends or pressures.