The Saskatchewan government says it is ending its relationship with private nursing home operator Extendicare and permanently taking over operations at all five of the company's homes in the province.
Everett Hindley, the minister in charge of seniors, made the announcement Thursday, following a review of the homes.
The review was prompted by an ombudsman report that found Extendicare was "woefully unprepared" for the COVID-19 outbreak that killed 39 residents of its Parkside home in Regina last winter. Three other infected residents died during the outbreak, but not of COVID-19.
"I am sorry that the measures and supports in place were not sufficient to prevent this tragedy," Hindley said during a news conference at the legislative assembly in Regina.
Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), apologized "for not being able to do more to prevent such a tragic situation."
Among other things, the ombudsman report found that concerns about Parkside's crowded four-person rooms were flagged early in the pandemic, but that no major action was taken to reduce the number of occupied beds until after the outbreak took hold.
Extendicare owns Parkside and four other homes: two others in Regina, plus one in Moose Jaw and one in Saskatoon. The publicly-traded, for-profit company has operated them under contract with the SHA for years.
The SHA review that followed the ombudsman report found that infection control practices varied significantly between the five Saskatchewan homes.
Who decided what
Livingstone said the SHA told Extendicare it wants its agreement with the company to end. Hindley said the government supports the SHA's decision.
The transition, including negotiations for the potential purchase of buildings and lands, will take months and will be driven by Extendicare, Livingstone said.
The cost of any potential purchase is unclear, he said.
According to a document shared with Extendicare families on Thursday, there are no plans to close the homes.
The Parkside building had been flagged for years for having cramped conditions and poor ventilation. Extendicare had lobbied the government for financial help to replace the facilities, some of which date back to the 1960s, but nothing came of it, the ombudsman investigation found.
Livingstone said there are no plans to move Extendicare residents out of the homes.
After the ombudsman report, Hindley had said the SHA would take a direct hand in temporarily overseeing all five of Extendicare's homes in Saskatchewan and report back to the ministry on what Extendicare had done to address the concerns raised in the ombudsman report. That report was sent to the ministry in September.
Hindley had flagged at the time that once the report was complete the government would reevaluate its relationship with Extendicare.
Hindley and Livingstone said there were many factors, not just the Parkside outbreak, that prompted the decision to end the relationship with Extendicare.
No immediate staff changes expected
CBC News reached out to Extendicare for comment but the company declined to add anything beyond what its president and CEO said in an SHA news release.
"Extendicare has more than 50 years of experience in Canada working cooperatively with governments, health agencies and community partners to identify solutions to the challenges we face in the sector," Michael Guerriere said in the release. "We are committed to work collaboratively with the SHA to support the transition process while remaining focused on the needs of residents, families and staff throughout."
No changes to staff are expected in the immediate future, Hindley said.
"Residents will continue their current routines, receiving care and services as they currently do in their current place of residence by the same caregivers," said a letter sent to families by the SHA and Extendicare.
Ryan Meili, leader of the Saskatchewan NDP Official Opposition, said his mother worked at Extendicare for many years.
"I know how hard the staff and leadership within those facilities work to provide care for the residents," he said. "They give it their all and the staff, especially at Parkside, but at every Extendicare facility, has been through a terrible situation, unsupported by the company and putting themselves in danger as they've dealt with the tragedy of losing so many of their residents.
"It's clear Extendicare, as a company, is a bad actor. They needed to go and it's about time this government figured it out."
According to the ombudsman report, during the Parkside outbreak, health authority officials left one December 2020 meeting with Extendicare concerned that the company's "corporate leaders were taking an arm's length approach and were providing only minimal corporate support to its local staff."