Action required on ‘unavoidable’ deaths

That simple truth that death is inevitable — and that it will occur in long-term care facilities such as personal-care homes — is immutable.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2020 (949 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

That simple truth that death is inevitable — and that it will occur in long-term care facilities such as personal-care homes — is immutable.

But Manitoba’s Minister of Health, Cameron Friesen, took the idea a step further in a recent interview by suggesting it’s inevitable that some people in care homes will die from COVID-19.

“There is no jurisdiction in Canada in which there have not been deaths in personal care homes. It is tragic, it is regrettable but it is unavoidable,” he told the CBC. “If there is a way to avoid COVID-19 deaths in care homes, I’m saying to you carefully that no jurisdiction has found it yet.”

Some top specialists in the field of geriatric medicine disagreed emphatically. They noted that of Manitoba’s total of 125 care homes, more than 110 to date have no positive cases. The experts also noted care homes in other countries have managed to repel COVID-19; in Singapore, a country of 6.2 million people, there have been only three care-home deaths due to the novel coronavirus.

The context in which Mr. Friesen offered his comment is that Manitoba care homes are currently incubating COVID-19 at an alarming rate. A dozen such homes have coronavirus outbreaks; as of Thursday’s reporting, Parkview Place in Winnipeg had more than 100 confirmed cases among staff and residents, 14 of whom had died.

Mr. Friesen’s view about the inevitability of COVID-19 infections will strike some people as capitulation, as if he believes keeping the virus at bay is too high a goal. Manitoba would be better served if the minister interpreted the numbers as a call for swift and decisive action — up to, and perhaps including, provincial intervention at care homes with serious outbreaks.

At Thursday’s pandemic briefing, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin was asked whether consideration has been given to having a hospital or the regional health authority take over operations at Parkview Place, where the facility’s management seems unable to contain the still-escalating caseload. Such extreme measures have been imposed in other jurisdictions, including Ontario and Quebec.

He said no such plan is currently being considered, but that the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is in daily contact with the home’s management and did conduct an unannounced inspection last weekend. “(The WRHA) is actively involved in that right now,” Dr. Roussin offered. “But we don’t have any immediate plans for me to order any place to be taken over.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen

Immediate action is, however, required. At very least, the province should initiate an urgent system-wide investigation to learn why COVID-19 is racing through some Manitoba care homes, but not others. What are coronavirus-infected homes doing wrong? What anti-coronavirus strategies have been successful in other jurisdictions and can be implemented here?

To support the investigation, Mr. Friesen has access to the province’s regular inspections of care homes, the results of which the province inexplicably keeps private. Unlike Manitoba, several other provinces publicly release detailed report cards on all institutions, information that is very useful to citizens trying to monitor the level of care received by their loved ones.

The protection of care-home residents is the ultimate responsibility of health officials who monitor and licence the institutions. The province’s duty to police and improve problematic care homes should be driven by the conviction that any COVID-19 death within a care home is unacceptable. To suggest otherwise is negligent.


Updated on Friday, October 23, 2020 2:55 PM CDT: Updates graphic

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