Today the Pallister government released the report on the tragedy which occurred at the Maples personal care home in October to December 2020. There were far too many people infected with COVID-19 (73 staff and 157 residents) and far too many deaths (56). It did not have to be this way. The central finding of the report was: "The review found that while pandemic plans had been prepared and were in place, the site was not prepared for the significant reduction in available staff once they had been exposed to COVID-19 and were required to self-isolate. In addition, the urgency of requests for additional on-site staffing supports were not fully understood until the situation became critical. While additional staff were brought in, many were not skilled in providing long-term care services and lacked training in infection prevention and control and specialized housekeeping skills." Five months before, Manitoba Liberals had warned the Premier three times that precisely this scenario could happen when COVID-19 got into a personal care home. If only the Premier had listened, this disaster at the Maples personal care home could have been prevented.
Manitoba Liberals not only warned the government three times that this could occur, we urged the government to put in place and train a rapid response team with sufficient highly trained staff to fill in the gap in up to three homes at a time when there was such a precipitous loss of staff. We recognized that no personal care home, on its own, would be able to fill the staff gaps with trained people. There would have to be a core group of provincially trained people who could go to any care home when an outbreak occurred and particularly when there was a staff shortage.
These three times occurred from May 22 to May 27, the last time we were sitting in the legislature before the government ended legislative sittings until the fall. We specifically urged the government to make preparations to be ready for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Front and centre in our recommendations was putting in place a rapid response team. Specifically I said "Manitobans have done a great job of working to keep COVID numbers down, and we should be using this time to make sure that personal care homes stay COVID-19 free for good. The time to start preparing a medical rapid response team is now." Our press release went on to say "Personal care homes have seen a terrible death toll during the pandemic across Canada and around the world. One major reason is that when COVID-19 strikes a personal care home, staffing can be drastically reduced because workers have to self-isolate. This was the reason the Canadian military had to be called in when outbreaks occurred at homes in Ontario and Quebec."
Our press release also mentioned "Manitoba Liberals say the PCs should take long-overdue measures to improve services at personal care homes, including a COVID-19 risk benefit for staff, increasing staffing levels and ensure that containment measures are in place." In a blog highlighting our press release, I went further in explaining the rationale for the rapid response team and why they needed special training. I wrote "When there is an outbreak in a personal care home, there can be many staff who have been exposed to the resident or staff member who develops a COVID-19 infection. This means that many of the staff may have to isolate or quarantine for two weeks which leaves the staffing in the care home short. To compensate for this short term staff are brought in who may or may not have specific experience or training in dealing with an outbreak in a personal care home. As a result of the shortage of staff in Ontario and Quebec, they have had to bring in the Canadian military to help. Manitoba needs to have a rapid response team which has received additional training in looking after an outbreak in a long term care home. It will be much easier to assemble such a team now and to provide them the training rather than wait until the emergency occurs." To see my blog which includes the press release click on this link.
On May 27, in a Members Statement, I repeated my call for the province to put in place a rapid response team. Specifically I said "When a COVID-19 infection happens in a personal care home, many of the staff will have been in contact with the affected person. Such staff need to isolate or quarantine. This can suddenly leave the personal care home drastically short of staff at the very time of the emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is critical that there be a provincial rapid response team to address the staffing shortfall, to ensure highly trained personnel are present at the time of the outbreak and to make sure that such personnel are trained in the care of elderly individuals with dementia as well as in carrying out critical protocols with respect to infection control. There also needs to be protocols in place in all personal care homes with rooms with more than one resident to ensure single isolation rooms are available when an outbreak occurs." To see the full Members Statement clink on this link:
Again on May 27, I repeated for a third time my concern about the need for a rapid response team by asking a question in Question Period. I asked "I ask the minister: Is he ensuring adequate oversight of personal-care homes in Manitoba, and when will he put in place a well-trained rapid response team to go to any home in Manitoba where there is a COVID-19 outbreak?" The Premier replied, but attacked me rather than listening to the question and recognizing what needed to be done. The full question and response can be seen at this link.
Sadly, the Premier never put the rapid response team in place until major outbreaks were already underway. It was too late. If he had done this when we called for it in May, the members of the team would have all been very well trained and ready to control outbreaks such as the one that occurred at the Maples personal care home.