On March 17, 2020, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer declared a public health emergency pursuant to the Public Health Act. On March 18, 2020, British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General declared a provincial state of emergency pursuant to the Emergency Program Act. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of British Columbia has issued and amended orders and regulations to ensure the safety of British Columbians, including orders and regulations that affect seniors housing in the province.
As outlined in our earlier post, Seniors’ Housing – Keeping up with the Corona – there are three broad classes of seniors’ housing in British Columbia: assisted living residence, residential care facilities and rental housing. As the Residential Tenancy Act, which governs rental housing in British Columbia, is not specific to seniors housing, the orders and regulations that affect seniors housing are directed at residential care facilities and assisted living facilities.
As of May 24, 2020, the following orders and directions were in effect in British Columbia:
Guidance for Assisted Living Resident Operators
On March 20, 2020, the Provincial Health Officer issued a direction to Assisted Living Resident Operators in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the vulnerability of seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems to COVID-19.
The direction restricts visits to Assisted Living Residents to essential visits only. The purpose of restricting visits to essential visits is to minimize the risk of the introduction of COVID-19 to the residences and to allow staff to focus on caring for residents, rather than monitoring and screening visitors. The direction lists visits for compassionate care, such as end of life and critical illness, and visits paramount to resident care and wellbeing, such as assistance with feeding or mobility as examples of essential visits.
The direction further notes that in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at an Assisted Living Residence, this direction changes and restricts visitors to Assisted Living Residences in accordance with the advice and direction from the local Medical Health Officer.
Information Collection to Allocate Staff Working in Facilities
On March 26, 2020, the Provincial Health Officer issued the notice Information Collection to Allocate Staff Working in Facilities pursuant to sections 30, 21, 32, 39(3), 54(1)(k), 67 and Part 5 of the Public Health Act.
Pursuant to this notice, the following must provide personal and employment related information of staff, including their name, contact information, social insurance number and other information to the Provincial Health Officer by March 28:
- Licensees of long term care facilities and private hospitals;
- Operators of hospitals with respect to staff working in areas providing for the reception and treatment of persons convalescing from or being rehabilitated after acute illness or injury, or requiring extended care at a higher level than that generally provided in a private hospital;
- Registrants of assisted living residences which provide regular assistance with activities of daily living, including eating, mobility, dressing, grooming, bathing or personal hygiene;
- Operators of hospitals with respect to staff working in areas providing for the reception and treatment of persons suffering from acute phases of illness or disability;
- Operators of provincial mental health facilities; and
- Contractors and sub-contractors who provide staffing for facilities.
The personal and employment related information of staff is not to include information about physicians, resident physicians, nurse practitioners, paramedics, delivery persons, trades people, visitors or any other class of person exempted by the Provincial Health Officer.
Long Term Care Facility Staff Movement Limitation
On March 27, 2020, the Provincial Health Officer issued the Order with respect to Long Term Care Facilities Staff Movement Limitation pursuant to sections 30, 21, 32, 39(3), 67 and Part 5 of the Public Health Act.
This order applies to licensees of long-term care facilities and private hospitals, as well as contractors and sub-contractors who provide staffing for facilities. It restricts the movement of staff between long-term care facilities and requires that staff work in only one facility. In order for a staff member to work in more than one facility, the long-term care facility must seek approval from the medical health officer. Long-term care facilities may not terminate the employment of or otherwise penalize staff and must preserve all benefits coverage and other prerequisites for staff who comply with the direction of the medical health officer with respect to where they are to work.
This order also requires that employees, contracted workers, and volunteers at facilities comply with the direction of the medical health officer with respect to the facility at which they work, unless the work is at a place other than a facility.
Community Living BC: Guidance for COVID-19
On April 1, 2020, the Deputy Provincial Health Officer for Indigenous Health wrote to the Chief Executive Officer for Community Living BC regarding COVID-19. Community Living BC provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their family. The letter encouraged Community Living BC to continue implementing public health measures, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, and self-isolation of individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 for a minimum of 14 days.
Further, the letter outlined the following specific adaptions that Community Living BC could implement to reduce the spread of the virus:
- Individuals should interact only with other individuals with whom they reside while being supported in the community or out of a location to protect against transmission from one home to another;
- The number of different staff that support individuals should be kept to the minimum number operationally possible to reduce the likelihood of transmission from staff to individuals and staff to individuals; and
- Transportation of individuals should allow for physical distancing to be maintained between individuals and staff and should be kept to a minimum.
Ministerial Order No. M105
On April 10, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General issued the Ministerial Order No. M105 pursuant to section 10 of the Emergency Program Act.
This Ministerial Order is in relation to the Public Health Officer’s Information Collection to Allocate Staff Working in Facilities Order (described above). The Ministerial Order permits the data collection to mitigate the risk of the transmission of COVID-19 among persons in care, patients, residents and staff. The following agreed to the terms of the Ministerial Order:
- HEABC (Health Employers Association of BC)
- CBA/BCGEU (British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union)
- FBA/HEU (Hospital Employees’ Union)
- HSPBA/HAS (Health Science Professional Bargaining Association)
- NBA/BNCU (BC Nurses’ Union)
Facility Staff Assignment Order
On April 15, 2020, the Provincial Health Officer issued the Facility Staff Assignment Order pursuant to sections 30, 21, 32, 39(3) and 67 of the Public Health Act.
Medical Health Officers
Medical health officers must make orders assigning staff to facilities including reassigning staff who have already been limited to working at a single facility pursuant to the Long Term Care Facility Staff Movement Limitation. Medical health officers should ensure that there is a sufficient balance of staff assigned to facilities to allow the facilities to provide the level of care necessary to protect the health and safety of residents. Medical health officers may make an exemption to the “one site” rule based on operational considerations.
Medical health officers must provide the Provincial Health Officer with copies of the orders, approved staffing assignment lists and information about exemptions.
Operators must direct staff to work at the facility to which they are assigned by order of the medical health officer and must not permit staff to work at a facility unless they have been assigned to work there by order of the medical health officer. Operators may make a request to a medical health officer for an exemption to an assignment of staff for critical operational reasons.
With respect to students and volunteers, operators must not permit a student or volunteer to work at a facility if the operator has reason to believe that they are working at another facility. Additionally, operators must not permit a student’s faculty supervisor to attend at a facility if the operator has reason to believe that they are supervising at other facilities.
Operators must update and confirm the personal and employment related information of staff, including their name, contact information, social insurance number and other information on an ongoing basis at https://bchealthstaffing.ca/upload and no less than every month.
Contractors and Sub-Contractors
Similar to the requirements for operators, contractors and sub-contractors who provide staffing for facilities (referred to collectively as “contractors” in this section) must direct staff to work at the facility to which they are assigned by order of the medical health officer and must not permit staff to work at a facility unless they have been assigned to work there by order of the medical health officer. Contractors may make a request to a medical health officer for an exemption to an assignment of staff for critical operational reasons.
Contractors must update and confirm the personal and employment related information of staff, including their name, contact information, social insurance number and other information on an ongoing basis at https://bchealthstaffing.ca/upload and no less than every month.
Staff must only work at the facility at which they are assigned to work by the medical health officer. However, this does not restrict staff from employment that is not at a facility, such as home support, social services, or other employment outside a facility.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and necessity of residential care facilities and assisted living residences to adapt efficiently and effectively, in a changing matrix of orders, regulations, directives and guidelines. If you have any questions about navigating the evolving regulatory landscape, please contact a member of Dentons Health Care team.
 SBC 2008, c 28.
 RSBC 1996, c 111.