Winnipeg mayor calls deaths at care home ‘sickening,’ pushes province to do more to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is calling on the provincial government to do more to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes after eight residents of one facility died over the weekend. 

The events at Maples Long Term Care Home this past weekend were “sickening,” Bowman said. 

Multiple paramedics were called to the home to assess at least 12 patients on Friday; two had died by the time paramedics arrived, 10 were treated and three were sent to hospital — one in critical condition.

Within a 48-hour span, eight people had died, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

At a news conference Monday morning, Bowman thanked paramedics and health-care workers and said the Manitoba government has not put enough planning or resources into preventing outbreaks at personal care homes. 

“There clearly haven’t been lessons learned from other provinces that quite frankly should have been,” he said. 

The city can only react to events as they unfold, the mayor said.

“What we need is the province to be more proactive than we have seen to date,” he said. “What’s going on right now isn’t acceptable, and the province needs help.”

Government officials should consider all options — including military help — that can provide the assistance they “clearly need,” he said.

Manitoba government reacts

Bowman’s comments came after Manitoba breached the grim milestone of 100 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, and provincial officials mulled tighter restrictions to stem an onslaught of COVID-19 cases in the province. 

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Premier Brian Pallister fired back at Bowman, suggesting he’s not being a team player. 

“While it may be easy to observe and criticize from afar, there are thousands of Manitobans on the front lines and in the civil service who are working extraordinarily hard to get our province through this pandemic,” the spokesperson said. 

“Since the start of this pandemic, our government has worked collaboratively with anyone and everyone who are prepared to genuinely collaborate in an effort to protect Manitobans. We would encourage Mayor Bowman to do the same and join ‘Team Manitoba’ so that we can work together to fight COVID.”

As of Monday, 177 cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the Maples Long Term Care home, infecting 55 staff and 122 residents. Thirteen residents have died since an outbreak began there last month. 

That outbreak is one of more than two dozen outbreaks at personal care homes in Manitoba. The deadliest, at Parkview Place in Winnipeg, has killed 23 people. 

The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Monday he did not believe the military needs to be called in yet but said nothing is off the table. 

Asked about the outbreak at Maples care home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was deeply concerned and is encouraging provinces to learn from each other about best practices. 

WATCH | Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman’s response: 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman wants the province to be more proactive in its handling of COVID-19 after an incident at Maples Long-Term Care Home, where paramedics were called in to care for 12 residents. 2:23

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane said paramedics responded to 18 calls to the care home via 911 in the span of 24 hours this weekend. 

The first call came in at about 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday. Two minutes later, Lane said they received several other calls via 911. 

The volume of patients was so high that if they had all been transferred to hospital at the same time, it would have overwhelmed the system and potentially spread COVID-19 to other areas, he said. 

Several people were treated Friday night by paramedics at the Maples Long Term Care Home in Winnipeg. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Reddit post ‘relatively accurate’

An ambulance was stationed at the care home until Monday morning as a proactive measure, as it would have required “extraordinary resources” for crews to respond to more 911 calls from the care home, Lane said. 

An anonymous person who said they were one of the paramedics who responded that evening posted about what was observed inside the care home that night on a discussion website, and the post was shared widely on social media.

CBC News has not been able to independently verify the identity of the person who made the post or verify if all details in the post are accurate.

The post included allegations that the residents who died had been deceased for some time when paramedics arrived. It also said some residents were simply hungry and that medics had to spoon feed them, while others were treated with IV fluids. 

Lane said the account in the Reddit post does reflect what their district chief who responded to the scene witnessed.

“So, it is relatively accurate.”

The care home and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said paramedics did not have to feed residents, and each resident had been checked on hourly that night.

A rapid response team was sent to the home on Saturday evening to help staff assess and monitor patients.

The forensic identification unit of the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) was seen at the care home Saturday night. WPS spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said Sunday that investigators “have initiated a preliminary assessment of the situation.” 

Meanwhile, about 20 people from the Canadian Red Cross are scheduled to arrive at the care home on Friday to give additional support.

Care home staffing levels

Over the weekend, health officials from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Revera — the for-profit company that owns the Maples home — said nursing was at full complement with seven nurses on shift Friday evening, and 13 out of 15 health-care aides also on duty.

But on Monday, Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said that was not true. 

After concerns were raised by the health-care aides’ union, Kaminski said she investigated personally and asked Revera to provide the names of people who were on duty and what hours they worked. 

That revealed there were only seven health-care aides on duty after 7:30 p.m. 

Kaminski said she’s extremely concerned that the information Revera provided “was less than accurate” and that the health authority will be following up to find out what they knew about the deteriorating situation at the care home, and when they knew it. 

CBC News has reached out to Revera for comment and is awaiting a response. 

Earlier in the day, Lane said he couldn’t comment on whether staff at the care home were overwhelmed, but he did say that paramedics had to administer IVs and oxygen to some patients.

“In other instances, [the care] was much more supportive … in encouraging them to eat and drink.”

WATCH | Winnipeg mayor on COVID-19 deaths at Maples Long Term Care Home:

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is calling on the provincial government to do more to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks at long term care homes after eight residents of one facility died over the weekend. 1:09:29

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