NSGEU report lists factors union says contributed to Northwood COVID-19 outbreak

After declining to participate in a review looking into the COVID-19 outbreak at the Northwood long-term care facility, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union has released its own report, “Neglecting Northwood.”

Last week NSGEU President Jason MacLean said he was refusing to participate in the review due to its secretive nature. MacLean says any information the union would have provided to the review committee could not be made public, so it refused to participate and instead published its own public report.

READ MORE: NSGEU president says he’s not taking part in Northwood review, calls for public inquiry

The report highlights numerous concerns over how the union says the government failed to adequately prepare for and respond to a COVID-19 outbreak in long-term care.

It notes that the facility has been underfunded for years, and that the facility was aware that having two or three residents in a single room presented risks to infection control, so the facility looked into adding more floors to convert everything to single-bed rooms.

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“Northwood requested permission from the provincial government to make this change in 2017, 2018 and again in 2019,” reads the report.

“The province refused Northwood’s request.”

READ MORE:Families call for transparent review of coronavirus outbreak at Northwood that left 53 dead

MacLean says that having all single beds at the facility could have reduced the overall impact of the outbreak.

“When you look at places like Magnolia, they had a COVID outbreak but they were single bunked and their infection control was much better because of that.”

It wasn’t until mid-April that the government and Northwood acknowledged that the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood had become unmanageable and on April 19, the government directed staff from the hospital’s COVID unit to move to Northwood to help with the outbreak.

1:55 Calls for public inquiry into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood grow

Calls for public inquiry into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood grow

This was the first time NSGEU members worked at Northwood and the report notes that a number of concerns were brought forward, including:

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  • not enough scrubs
  • PPE from Unit 8.4 not delivered to Northwood in time
  • residents roaming the facility without any identification, such as a wrist band, to indicate who was COVID positive or negative
  • no clean rooms (a space that is not accessible to patients where staff can safely put on and remove PPE without risk of infection)
  • staff told to re-use as much PPE as possible and PPE left in boxes on unit floors rather than stored properly
  • negative and positive patients living in the same room and using a common bathroom
  • a lack of garbage receptacles to properly dispose of contaminated PPE

“There were a lot of things that were going on that was contrary to what should be done at any place that had an outbreak,”  Maclean said.

While these concerns were eventually addressed, the report also claims that overall, the government action was too little, too late. It says that Nova Scotia’s COVID curve was weeks behind elsewhere in the country, giving it a window of opportunity to prepare.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia review of Northwood COVID-19 outbreak to be completed by September

But the report says the province failed to take advantage of this. While British Columbia limited long-term care workers to one facility and instructed them all to wear masks starting at the end of March, Nova Scotia didn’t take similar action until three weeks later. The union’s report says:

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“By then it was too late for Northwood.”

“I do believe we were paying attention to what was happening in B.C.; however, something stopped us from acting like they did in B.C.,” MacLean said. “I think that’s what will be revealed in a public inquiry if we were to have one.”

MacLean says a public inquiry is important in being able to lay out all the information on the table and allow Nova Scotians to see and understand what went wrong.

READ MORE: Northwood seeks private rooms after COVID tragedy, but will N.S. fund the fix?

“Once (Nova Scotians) learn everything through a full, open and transparent inquiry, I think Nova Scotians would have the appetite to invest more into long term care and bring about real change into the system.”

Both opposition parties are throwing their support behind this idea.

“A full public inquiry is needed,” said PC leader Tim Houson in a statement.

“It’s important that Nova Scotians learn about what actually happened during the months of March to June.”

2:35 How families remember: Evelina Upshaw, lost to COVID-19

How families remember: Evelina Upshaw, lost to COVID-19

NDP leader Gary Burrill echoed similar sentiments, saying that “residents and staff in all nursing homes in the province have been on the front line of the sacrifice and difficulty of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia. Their efforts and experiences need to be honoured with a full public inquiry.”

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In a statement from the Department of Health, spokesperson Heather Fairbairn says, “Our goal with the review is to determine what happened at Northwood and address anything that will help avoid or contain future outbreaks of COVID-19. … The reviewers have begun their work, and doing so under the QIIP Act ensures a comprehensive review and timely results.”

The statement adds that the recommendations will be made public after they’ve been presented to the minister.

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