Inquiry needed into care home deaths June 18,2021


Inquiry needed into care home deaths

By Norbert Cunningham

How I see it


New Brunswicks opposition parties are correct to unanimously call on the government  to formally investigate apparent failures at a special care home in Edmundston earlier this year. The home in question experienced nine Covid-19 deaths amid an outbreak that saw 54 residents and 41 staff  infected.


There are questions the public deserves to have answered, including about how much the government knew,  and why there werent better preventive measures in place, let alone public disclosure of problems.


Minister of Social Development Bruce Fitch said this week he is, not sure if theres anything else  to be learned from (an investigation), other than giving the opposition a soapbox to use.” He also said the government and others were learning as they went” and responding with best practices.


If they knew best practices, why didnt they implement them beforehand?


Fitch said he wasnt aware of the safety issues at the home as reported by WorkSafeNB, and didnt request any inspection reports despite the nine deaths. Then he implied it was a chaotic time: people were dealing with infection control, they were dealing with spread, they were dealing with staff shortages, they were dealing with seniors.”  Surely this ought to have raised a few concerns with the minister and government.


Fitch and Health Minister Dorothy Shephard were both asked in late March about WorkSafe reports on Edmundstons Manoir Belle Vue and both said t hey hadnt seen them. The outbreak occurred between Jan. 21 and April 2, yet it didnt occur to them it might be a good idea to take a peek at relevant reports?


Since the initial reports were recently obtained and reported on by Brunswick News, WorkSafe spokesperson Laragh Dooley has stated the total content from the report wasnt released and there was corrective action taken quickly at the care home. That part, however, was withheld due to privacy issues. I suggest even if a few things are blacked out for privacy, releasing information showing prompt action was taken would be in the best interest of everybody, including the special care home, which hasnt commented.


Dooleys  remarks also raise questions.


WorkSafe inspected the home and issued corrective orders. It discussed them with the management but didnt lift the order upon re-inspection because the home hadnt documented its operational plan in writing,  as required. There was no explanation why not.


Its odd.  Dooley said WorkSafe doesnt approve required operational plans. However, its  pandemic role for special care homes is to inspect or investigate workplaces, assess the safeguards in place to protect workers, verify that there is a written COVID-19 operational plan, ensure compliance to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.


Note this is all about workers not properly following rules for their own safety. Wheres the concern for highly vulnerable seniors being cared for by those workers not properly protecting themselves?


Why were two government ministers downplaying suggestions anything was possibly amiss? How do they justify that? How would they even know if they didnt read the reports?


Im suggesting no answers. With incomplete information, the selective release of documents, and official responses that dont clarify or answer much, Ive just one conclusion: there is enough public interest involved and enough serious questions meriting clear answers, that an inquiry would be in the interests of the public.


Was this government sugar-coating things? Were they unwisely trying not to panic seniors by leaving the field open to rumour, innuendo and wild speculation? Was there a pre-existing, pre-pandemic failure to properly protect seniors, and if so, how long has this government or previous governments been taking unacceptable risks?


Was government embarrassed to admit that it couldnt shut any care homes down and temporarily move residents elsewhere because there was no elsewhere’ to send them?


The most penetrating observation came from Green Party leader David Coon: “…this was a year after the beginning of the pandemic. After a year, the procedures to be followed inside long-term care homes should have been second nature.” 


Exactly! Why werent they? 


Government cant claim ignorance.


In a column I wrote last May, three months into the pandemic, I discussed how Ontario and Quebec accounted for 94 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths (5,105 of 5,425) and 94.1 per cent of all active infections. New Brunswick had zero deaths and very few infections.


In the Maritimes, only Nova Scotia was struggling, with 51 deaths, 45 of them from an outbreak in a single Halifax nursing home.


If that didnt ring an alarm for New Brunswicks government, the news from Canadas Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam the same month should have. She revealed that 79 per cent of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths had been residents of nursing or seniors homes.


New Brunswick had seven months from when this gruesome reality was emerging to have set up a plan and protocol to prevent the disease getting into our nursing homes. It missed that boat, albeit managing to contain outbreaks quickly in other nursing homes more recently. 


All provinces in Canada could benefit from inquiries. Much of our tragedy was avoidable.



Norbert Cunningham is a Brunswick News columnist and a retired editorial page editor with the Times & Transcript. His column appears twice per week. This column appeared in Brunswick News publications Friday, June 18, 2021. It is reprinted  by permission of the author and BNI.