Albert Lee’s mother had only been living at Winnipeg’s Parkview Place care home for 10 days when she tested positive for COVID-19. From afar, he watched with concern and wondered how his mother had contracted the disease. Sixteen days later, Pak Lee, 102, died.
“It’s really the circumstance under which she passed that I’m most unhappy about,” Mr. Lee said from his home in Mississauga.
Parkview Place in Winnipeg’s Central Park neighbourhood is the site of the province’s largest coronavirus outbreak; 32 staff and 106 residents at the long-term care home have tested positive for COVID-19. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer, said there are currently no plans to take over management of the privately operated, 277-bed facility, where 22 residents have died after contracting the virus. Ms. Lee died Oct. 6.
Manitoba reported a record-breaking 480 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including 309 in Winnipeg, where 9.7 per cent of tests performed returned positive results. Nearly 100 operations have also been cancelled in the city, where ICU capacity has reached 96 per cent, with only three ICU beds available as of last Friday. Public-health officials provided no information on care-home outbreaks or ICU capacity on the weekend.
In response, all bars and restaurants in the city will close to indoor dining on Monday, most retail outlets will be reduced to 25-per-cent capacity, while movie theatres will go dark and sports and recreation programs will be suspended. Faith-based gatherings of 100 people or 15-per-cent capacity (whichever is lower) are permitted in Winnipeg, and 250 people or 20-per-cent of capacity (whichever is lower) in the rest of the province. Visits to hospitals and care homes will be further restricted, although designated caregivers will be allowed inside if they pass screening measures and wear protective equipment.
Mr. Lee is disappointed in both the personal care home and the government’s response to the crisis. He was informed by staff at the home in an e-mail, just hours before his mother’s virtual memorial service, that precautions against the spread of the virus amounted to placing furniture between the bed of his mother and her roommate as the outbreak began.
“I read it and my first thought was, ‘Oh no, this isn’t right,’” said Mr. Lee, who spent years assessing the safety of nuclear installations. “It’s been well established over the last several months that the coronavirus is readily and easily transmitted in airborne droplets indoors, that’s been well known to all of the health care professionals – putting end tables between the beds is, from my perspective, incompetent.”
Parkview Place is operated by Revera Retirement Living, the subject of a $50-million lawsuit launched on behalf of Ontario families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at Revera-operated residences in that province. In a statement, the company said all active COVID-19 cases are now housed individually at Parkview Place and staff is working toward cohorting residents who test positive on two floors of the 12-storey facility. Revera is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, a Crown corporation that makes pension investments for organizations such as the RCMP and Canadian forces.
Two weeks ago, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority conducted a surprise review of Parkview Place and found staff not following proper protocols for personal protective equipment, difficulty in accessing hand-sanitizer, inadequate laundry service and a cockroach infestation. Staff were described as “burned out” and “exhausted.”
Wab Kinew, leader of the Official Opposition NDP, derided the government’s efforts in the Manitoba Legislature last week and has previously called for the evacuation of Parkview Place. “Why is this government continuing to fail seniors, and when will they step in to take control of the Parkview Place personal care home so that no one else dies?” he said.
Lisa Muswagon questions why the home didn’t prepare for the inevitable arrival of COVID-19 months ago, when the disease was ravaging care homes in other provinces. Her 72-year-old father, Charles Scribe, lives at Parkview Place and she says she believes staffing shortages at the home have resulted in inadequate care for her father and other residents.
“He fell, trying to get to the washroom because no one was changing him for hours and then he calls me for help, from the floor, he’s lying on the floor and he calls me,” Ms. Muswagon said. She wants the province to step in and take over management of the privately run facility, just as the governments of Ontario and Quebec stepped in to manage some care homes in those provinces. In Kitchener, Ont., it was a hospital that took over management of a Revera-owned care home at the province’s direction.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has also called on public-health officials, including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, to conduct immediate, in-person inspections of all privately operated care homes. “We cannot have a repeat of what happened at Parkview Place,” said CUPE Manitoba health care co-ordinator Shannon McAteer.
Michelle Porter, director of the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba, agrees personal-care homes need more oversight, describing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases as “shocking.”
“There are a lot of us who are really baffled about what’s happening behind the scenes. Who’s really responsible? Is it within the ministry? Is it the regional health authority? Is it the home?” Ms. Porter said. “You can’t leave everything up to the home when things seem to be spiralling out of control.”
Care homes in Manitoba are licensed by the province.
“Ultimately, responsibility is with the operator, but it’s a shared responsibility,” said Dr. Roussin, adding that early in the pandemic, personal-care home reviews were done remotely.
The province said the total number of reviews completed each year fluctuates, but that Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living – the government ministry responsible for health services – conducts standard reviews at personal-care homes at least once every two years. In addition, unannounced reviews are done at one-third of homes to monitor concerns and progress. “In 2020 and subsequent to COVID, MHSAL conducted modified reviews and will have completed reviews at all 125 licensed facilities in Manitoba by the end of November 2020,” a statement from the Health Ministry said.
In a statement, Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen said his government “has been diligently preparing since the beginning of this pandemic. We have bolstered resources, hired workers and increased capacity in every corner of our pandemic response.”
A “one-site” policy is in place for employees of long-term care homes in Manitoba, but an exception has been made for workers who want to transfer into Parkview Place, which is struggling with recruitment.
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