Calls for inquiry grow louder as COVID-19 death toll hits 52 at Northwood

HALIFAX —
Fifty-two residents at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax have now died from COVID-19. The staggering death toll has many questioning what went wrong and calling for a public inquiry into the situation.

“It was absolutely mismanaged,” said Kate Kelly, whose 70-year-old brother lives at the nursing home.

“What should have happened was that the first cases of COVID in Northwood should have been isolated, sent to hospital — that’s what the hospitals were shut down for.”

Kelly’s brother does not have COVID-19, but she has concerns about how the pandemic is being handled and wants to see changes, such as more staff to care for seniors and fewer shared rooms.

“Once you get enough staff for what already exists, what about the fact that there’s still overcrowding, there’s still not enough rooms. This premier looks to me like he doesn’t care,” said Kelly.     

“I think that if someone died now, it means that they’ve contracted it since we knew there was an outbreak,” said Chris Parsons, the provincial co-ordinator of the Nova Scotia Health Coalition. “I’m really concerned and we’re really concerned at the health coalition that steps weren’t taken to control infection and it’s worrisome.”

Parsons says the Nova Scotia economy should not reopen until there are zero cases of COVID-19 at Northwood.

On Thursday, the facility was reporting 15 active cases of the virus among residents and four active cases among employees. Overall, the long-term care home has seen 342 cases of COVID-19 involving 244 residents and 98 employees.

“The big problem was, there was a belief that Northwood and other long-term care facilities were closed off from the community at large, right. And so people thought coronavirus can’t get in or out and that’s how we ended up with an outbreak there,” said Parsons.

Both the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party and the Nova Scotia NDP would like to see an inquiry take place.

“I think it’s a total tragedy what’s happened there and I think along the way, there will have been decisions that were made, that maybe wouldn’t be made the same way a second time through so, we definitely need to learn those lessons and I think it was telling for me when front-line health-care workers were raising concerns about infection control practices that were taking place at Northwood and the response was to call those workers fearmongers,” said Nova Scotia PC Leader Tim Houston.

“When we look at our long-term care situation across this province, most places have done very well, so we can probably have the province learn some lessons from those other homes that we can apply to different areas.”

“What we need to have is an investigation and inquiry into long-term care in light of the circumstances of the pandemic. There are a number of things that have been at the forefront of long-term care in Nova Scotia, which are really brought under a very glaring spotlight by what has taken place at Northwood,” said Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill.

“There’s the question of the adequacy of the numbers of staff, there’s the question of the adequacy of the pay of staff and there is certainly the question of the adequacy of facility design. We know that every time a government has decided not to build a new nursing home, that is a decision that has left large numbers of people living in facilities with multiple occupancy.”

Northwood is the largest such facility east of Montreal and many residents live in shared rooms, which has been flagged as an issue during the pandemic.

Premier Stephen McNeil isn’t committing to a public inquiry at this time, but he said the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a conversation about the size of long-term care homes across the country.

“If you look at many of our new facilities now, there are wings, so people isolated in those wings, there are smaller numbers,” said McNeil. “How do we best ensure that, if it is a big facility, what do you do between floors? All those kinds of things will be part of a conversation as we see our way through this and reimagine long-term care as it comes to large facilities like Northwood.”

With only 29 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, Nova Scotia is nearing the end of the first wave of the virus, but a second wave is expected later this year.

The Nova Scotia Health Coalition wants to know what happened at Northwood, before the second wave hits, to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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