Ivan Hnatuik fears he will lose his mother, Eileen, to COVID-19 just as he lost his mother-in-law earlier this year.
His mother is at the Bentley Retirement Community in Yorkton.
"They're all isolated in their rooms now, again," he said, speaking from New Brunswick, where he lives.
Another outbreak has been declared at the facility, operated by care home giant Revera, after staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Hnatuik's already experienced the consequences of what happens when workers bring the virus into a home.
Earlier this year, there was an outbreak in Edmundston, N.B., where both of his in-laws lived.
"They both contracted COVID through an external worker, who was a hairdresser," he said, adding dozens ended up sick. "My mother-in-law died on Valentine's Day with her husband holding her hand."
Hnatuik sent a warning to family members the night his mother-in-law died, pleading with them to be safe. Now he's trying to warn people in Saskatchewan what's at stake.
Residents could be better protected if all workers coming into the building are required to show negative test results before entering, he said, adding surveillance testing of staff could be done every three days.
Facility says it goes 'above and beyond'
Ron Brett, vice-president of strategic operations with Revera, told Hnatiuk that employees have undergone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing biweekly through laboratory services company Dynacare since January.
"Currently, there is no requirement in Saskatchewan to perform testing on asymptomatic individuals.This testing was piloted and implemented independently by Revera and goes over and above provincial requirements," Brett wrote. "In Saskatchewan, when a site goes into outbreak, testing is dictated by public health, which is why whole home swabbing [of residents] was completed today, on April 14. However, without a government directive stating that testing must be completed as a condition of work, it remains voluntary."
Hnatuik said the government should put protections in place, like mandated testing, for retirement homes. Hnatuik said there's a feeling of helplessness within him as variants spread.
Retirement homes not regulated by government
The government says it has no control over the facility.
Retirement homes are considered private businesses and are not regulated by government acts, according to a Ministry of Health spokesperson. That means retirement homes also weren't recipients of rapid testing kits deployed by the government.
The spokesperson said such homes are encouraged, but not mandated, to follow the guidelines for special care homes in public health orders. The health order requirements include continuous masking, staff screening and temperature checks, staff cohorting and visitor restrictions.
"I believe that basically what's happening is that the provincial government, being a conservative government, does not want to mandate to businesses, so they don't," he said. "They don't want to put undue burden on businesses, so they're not mandating the testing."
Jillianne Nagy, Revera's regional director of operations for Saskatchewan and Manitoba, also told Hnatiuk there aren't government orders prohibiting staff members working at other non-health-care related jobs. She said they are following screening protocol, enhanced cleaning and have "made efforts to encourage the government to provide vaccines for our staff as quickly as possible."
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has also pointed to vaccines as Saskatchewan's saving grace as a third wave crashes over the province.
But Hnatiuk said that's a mistake. Herd immunity is still a long way off and Hnatiuk's mother has only had one dose. The care home residents haven't all been vaccinated, staff are further behind and it's not known when second doses will happen. There have been people, including three in New Brunswick, hospitalized for COVID-19 after they received at least one dose of vaccine.
"We're sort of at the end of the rope in terms of trying to get action on this and to protect the people," he said. "Revera's totally within legal bounds here and they're hiding behind the skirts of the provincial government, and the provincial government's not doing enough."