Manitoba government orders probe following surge of COVID-19 deaths at care homes

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WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government promised an independent investigation Sunday into two private long-term care homes in Winnipeg that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19, one of which had to call paramedics to help deal with sick and dying residents.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the province will hire an independent health expert to look at what has caused spikes in positive test results and deaths at Parkview Place and Maples Personal Care Home, both owned by Revera. The company owns or manages hundreds of properties across the country.

"And that will be for the purpose of determining what went on … and then to return quickly with advice to system leaders," Friesen said Sunday.

There were eight deaths at the Maples home within 48 hours recently, seven of which were linked to COVID-19.

Paramedics were called in Friday night. Two residents had died before they arrived, three required hospitalization, and others were treated on site. Some needed intravenous fluids for hydration.

Paramedics remained at the home for several hours and a new rapid-response team is to remain on site around the clock. The Winnipeg Police Service said it had started "a preliminary assessment" of what happened but would not provide details.

Friesen said the need for residents to be hydrated, and what that might say about the care they had been receiving, will be part of the probe.

Friesen said he was briefed Thursday on long-term care homes including Maples in a meeting with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and others.

"There was nothing provided to me at that briefing that would have led me to believe that somehow the situation was in imminent danger of deteriorating, so that raises important questions about what was going on at an operational level."

Revera has said it had a full complement of nurses on site Friday evening, and a 65 per cent staffing level of health-care aides. The overnight shift was fully staffed at all levels, the company said. 

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents health care aides and other workers, said there were only seven aides working the Friday evening shift — less than 50 per cent of the normal level. 

The Manitoba Nurses Union said its members have been sounding the alarm about staff shortages and high workloads for months. Nurses at Maples have filed 47 workload staffing reports this year — triple the amount filed last year, the union said.

"According to reports, sometimes just one nurse is assigned to care for 40 or 60 residents, and they are frequently short health care aides as well," union president Darlene Jackson said in a written statement Sunday.

At least 106 residents at Maples have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and 22 have died. The other Revera home to be investigated, Parkview Place, has recorded 111 COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths among residents.

The Opposition New Democrats called for the government to take over operations of the two care homes, call in the military to bolster support ranks, and recruit more health-care workers.

"After hearing about the chaos at Maples, it’s clear the time for baby steps is over," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Manitoba health officials reported 441 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, which is a few dozen shy of a one-day record. The province has seen a spike in recent weeks that has prompted tightened restrictions, especially in the greater Winnipeg and southern health regions, where restaurants and bars have had to shut down except for food takeout and delivery.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2020.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press