Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen called an independent investigation into two Winnipeg care homes that have become the sites of deadly COVID-19 outbreaks.
That investigation will focus on a Friday night incident at the Maples Long Term Care Home that saw paramedics called to the site to care for 12 residents whose conditions were rapidly deteriorating, Friesen said at a news conference on Sunday morning.
Two of those residents, who were getting end-of-life care — including one who had COVID-19 — died before crews arrived, and another three were taken to hospital.
“Keeping COVID-19 out of our care homes has been one of the greatest challenges and one of the greatest areas of focus… during this pandemic,” he said. “More clearly needs to be done.”
A rapid response team was called in to the Maples care home on Saturday after eight people died there in a span of 48 hours.
The investigation will also look into what has been happening at the Parkview Place Long Term Care Home, which is the site of Manitoba’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak with at least 23 deaths as of Friday.
“We know how incredibly serious COVID-19 is. We know that both in Manitoba and from following the rest of the world,” he said. “We know that COVID and long-term care homes is exceptionally serious, because of how susceptible the elderly are … and we have seen that recently.”
Looking for lessons to take away
Friesen said the province will look to hire an independent investigator to look into what has been happening at both sites and return with advice for what the government could do to help long-term care homes during the pandemic.
He said as of right now there will be no official inquiry into the situation, but did not rule that step out.
A case summary of what happened at Maples on Friday night is also being put together, he said, which will seek to understand what was done by workers at the care home, whether those steps were medically appropriate and whether there are lessons to take away.
That summary will assess patient conditions, care provided and frequency of interventions, Friesen said.
The health minister also said he has directed the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to immediately bring in “additional supervision measures” at the Maples care home.
WATCH | Cameron Friesen talks about new steps to help care homes:
Friesen also said he has directed the health authority to reach out to all personal care homes across the province to determine whether the sites are prepared to react to quickly changing resident conditions. He also announced the creation of a long-term care task force within the health incident command structure.
On Saturday evening, Winnipeg police officers were seen entering the Maples care home, where a COVID-19 outbreak has to date claimed the lives of 22 people. Around 8 p.m., the forensic identification unit truck was parked across the street from the site, and officers in protective suits were seen leaving the facility and going back into that truck.
On Sunday morning, Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said the police service is aware of concerns at the care home, and investigators “have initiated a preliminary assessment of the situation.”
Meanwhile, about 20 people from the Canadian Red Cross are also scheduled to give additional support at the care home starting Friday, Friesen said.
Response team on site
Lanette Siragusa, provincial lead for health system integration and quality and chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said it appears the Maples care home was staffed adequately for normal conditions.
“But this was not normal, this was acute, and more reinforcements were needed there.”
Siragusa said care home operators need to staff their facilities to meet the increasing needs of residents during COVID-19. The rapid response team deployed to the Maples care home on Saturday was created to give immediate support to facilities identified as needing help, she said.
There were two advanced-care paramedics at the site overnight, and a relief team arrived Sunday morning.
She said that team is meant to be a resource that can quickly intervene in situations like the one that unfolded at the Maples care home on Friday, assessing and treating residents on site to avoid unnecessary transfers to hospital.
In Winnipeg, that service includes a 24-hour ambulance with two advanced-care paramedics, as well as a 24-hour advanced-practice respiratory therapist and a supervisor who can oversee and co-ordinate patient needs. A similar service for rural and northern Manitoba is also being developed, Siragusa said.
The rapid response team also partners with local health regions to support added staffing while a long-term plan is worked out. Health regions will provide a nurse practitioner or primary care physician to join community and primary care paramedics from Shared Health, she said. That arrangement will allow for between 12 and 24 hours of additional support for care homes in need.
The team will also help support the transition back to the facility’s operators once the situation has stabilized, she said.
WATCH | Full press conference on Nov. 8, 2020:
That’s not enough, according to the official opposition and the Manitoba Liberals.
“We’re asking for the provincial government to immediately take control of Maples and Parkview [Place] and at the same time, with the utmost of speed and agility, that they also call in the Canadian Armed Forces to operate those facilities while they’re run by the province,” said Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew.
“The time for baby steps is over. We need strong and decisive action to save the lives of seniors.”
Meanwhile, Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said the health minister should call for an inquiry into what happened at the Maples, not just an investigation.
He’s also suggesting the government put the province under code red, or critical, according to the pandemic response system, and hand over control to non-political entities, like medical and emergency experts.
Lamont says he’s emailed the prime minister and is calling on the federal government to step in and get things under control.
“The idea that what happened in Maples is a surprise is an absolute disgrace.”
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