Pine Grove COVID-19 outbreak was avoidable, but province failed: union

·2 min read
Pine Grove Correctional Centre is the only facility in Saskatchewan that houses adult women offenders. (CBC - image credit)
Pine Grove Correctional Centre is the only facility in Saskatchewan that houses adult women offenders. (CBC - image credit)

The union representing workers at Pine Grove Correctional Facility in Prince Albert, Sask., says the Saskatchewan Health Authority has directed staff to limit interactions with the public after an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility.

Barry Nowoselsky, chair of the PSG negotiating committee of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU), said staff received the notice on May 31 after the outbreak was declared on May 23. This advisory included direction to stop shopping at grocery stores or gas stations, and rely on others for childcare, he said.

Nowoselsky said the outbreak at Pine Grove could've been avoided if staff members and inmates had been prioritized for vaccinations earlier.

"They should have been prioritized back in January of this year when the Sask Health Authority themselves made the recommendation that they be part of the second wave of vaccinations," he said.

The Ministry of Corrections, Policing and Public Safety said in a statement that health officials are managing the outbreak at Pine Grove, ensuring that staff and inmates are receiving proper care.

"We recognize the difficulty that this outbreak is having on staff and their families," it said. "The self-isolation instructions are being undertaken, as directed by the Saskatchewan Health Authority, to reduce any potential for further spread within the facility and community."

It said correctional staff were prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations on April 30 and that as of June 4, 153 inmates at Pine Grove had received their first dose. SGEU said Pine Grove has a capacity of 166 inmates, but at the end of April had 185 inmates.

"Inmates in our correctional centres will continue to receive vaccines as part of the age-based vaccine roll-out, just like members of the general public," the ministry said.

Nowoselsky said there are still inmates and staff in every facility who have not been vaccinated yet.

"This issue that we have is that the government dropped the ball. They should have been a priority a long time ago and all of these things that are happening today would've been avoidable," he said.

"Unfortunately, they haven't listened to us, we've raised this issue now going on six to eight months and it fell on basically deaf ears, and the government is responsible for what's going on there today."

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