Saskatchewan nurses union calls for public inquiry into Parkside Extendicare COVID-19 outbreak

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) is calling for a public inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak that’s devastated Parkside Extendicare in Regina.

In an update Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said that as of 4 p.m. Monday, there had been 36 deaths and while there were no active cases among residents, there were 17 among staff members.

SUN president Tracy Zambory said the organization is drafting a letter to Premier Scott Moe, asking for a formal investigation.

She said members who stepped up to curb the caseload at the private nursing home reported infection-control issues.

“We’re certainly going to start the conversation because it needs to be started,” Zambory said. “We have to have a public inquiry into how in the name of goodness were we able to allow the situation to get to where it did at Parkside Extendicare.”

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Read more: Daughter shares story after mom dies of COVID-19 at Regina’s Parkside Extendicare

The SHA entered into a temporary co-management agreement with Parkside Extendicare earlier this month.

In an email, a spokesperson for Extendicare, which has facilities across the country, said the focus is currently on clearing the virus from its homes, reiterating that in Saskatchewan, it is working with public health.

“We have infection prevention and control protocols in place throughout our homes, including increased disinfecting and PPE requirements, and continue to follow the latest guidance from public health to make sure our response is informed by the most recent available evidence,” the spokesperson wrote.

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“At this time, Extendicare is singularly focused on the care and wellbeing of our residents.”

Read more: Regina fire providing support at Parkside Extendicare during COVID-19 outbreak

Global News counted the personal-care, special-care and long-term care and assisted-living facilities as well as seniors and retirement residences listed on the province’s online active COVID-19 outbreak list.

As of 12 p.m. Tuesday, there were 43, compared to 55 in Manitoba and 159 in Alberta

C.A.R.P., a national seniors advocacy group, said the number of care homes impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks across the Prairie provinces and across the country in recent months is concerning, but an apparent spike in cases in those settings is reflection of what’s going on with the broader population.

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“One of the reasons we’re seeing right across the country is that the general public is not following the rules and regulations as much as they should,” said C.A.R.P.’s chief policy officer, Bill VanGorder.

Read more: Regina fire providing support at Parkside Extendicare during COVID-19 outbreak

VanGorder is based in Nova Scotia, but said he has a friend working in long-term care in Saskatchewan who is recovering from COVID-19.

“I’ve been hearing up-close and personal about the difficulties those wonderful front-line workers are running into,” he said.

“Unless we can make sure these facilities have good infection control procedures and jump on these issues right away, it just, in these closed facilities, it spreads like wildfire and it gets to the point where even the best medical officials can’t do anything about it.”

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More locally, the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism is questioning the efficacy province’s decision to lockdown care homes to mitigate against COVID-19.

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Linda Anderson, the group’s ageism awareness advocate, pointed to other regions with sorts of limited visitation options.

“This is not only about loneliness,” Anderson said. “It’s that our care homes have depended on those family and friend caregivers.”

Anderson said this unfolding tragedy is highlighting the many gaps in Saskatchewan’s fragmented public-private system.

From short-staffing to inadequate infrastructure, she, too, said a review of the system and its standards is overdue.

SUN said the hope is that a public inquiry, if undertaken, would extend across the continuum of for-profit care.

The province did not send a response to a request for comment Tuesday.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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