The Saskatchewan government says it will ask the province's ombudsperson to conduct an independent investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak at Regina's Parkside Extendicare home, where 43 infected residents have died.
The announcement follows a call Thursday from the Saskatchewan NDP for the provincial auditor to probe the outbreak.
"Our government agrees that the outbreak should be investigated by an independent office of the legislative assembly, but that such a review fits within the mandate of the provincial ombudsman," Everett Hindley, the minister in charge of seniors, said in a written statement.
The formal request for the investigation, which will focus on "the outbreak and subsequent events," will be made in the coming days, Hindley said.
"It is our expectation that Extendicare, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Ministry of Health fully comply with the provincial ombudsman's investigation, and we commit to releasing the investigation report following its conclusion," Hindley said.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said on Twitter that the move fell short of his party's expectations.
"We need a full public inquiry in the light of day, not another buried study," Meili tweeted.
In a legislative committee meeting shortly preceding the government's announcement, Meili's party called on the provincial auditor to do a special investigation of Parkside examining, among other things, staffing levels and the use of personal protective equipment at the home.
Recommendations made by the ombudsperson are not binding but "are usually recognized as being fair and are implemented," according to the Ombudsman Saskatchewan website.
Need for further accountability: Opposition
Saskatchewan NDP MLA Aleana Young, who made the committee motion, said she was disappointed with the avenue of investigation chosen by the government.
She said the auditor would have reported back to the all-party committee, making that process more accountable to the public.
"For an investigation with the ombudsman, that's not necessarily the case," Young said.
The ombudsman website states its reports go back to "anyone that may be adversely affected by our findings."
"These are people who have who have worked and raised families," Young said of the 43 dead residents. "They paid taxes in Saskatchewan for 70 years. Nobody deserves to die potentially from neglect or things that could have been prevented."
Two Extendicare employees have voiced concerns about the early steps Extendicare took to contain the outbreak.
Barbara Cape, the president of SEIU West — a union representing thousands of Saskatchewan health workers — said on Twitter that it was important for staff and families to be a part of the investigation.
"Glad that this will be released publicly," she wrote.
A spokesperson for Extendicare said the company has worked closely with the province and the Saskatchewan Health Authority both prior to and during the outbreak "in an effort to prepare our homes and protect residents as much as possible from the threat of this virus."
"Our singular focus at this time is on the health and safety of the people we care for. Our deepest condolences are with every family who has lost a loved one to this virus," the spokesperson said.
"We will provide any information requested by the ombudsman through the course of this process."
2 more deaths reported Wednesday
Provincial health officials declared the outbreak at Parkside in late November. The home is operated by a private company, Extendicare, under a contract with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
At the height of the outbreak in early December, more than three-quarters of the home's original 200 inhabitants were infected, along with many staff who had to self-isolate at home. At that time, the SHA announced it was taking over day-to-day operations at Parkside.
On Wednesday, the SHA confirmed it would remain in charge until Jan. 30 "to ensure there is time for a successful transition to Extendicare management at the home."
As of Thursday, there were no known active cases of COVID-19 among the 154 remaining residents at the home. Extendicare did report that two more residents had died, however, including one person who had been infected with COVID-19 but more recently "was in hospital for non-COVID related reasons."
That brings the outbreak's total death toll to 43.
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