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As COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to rise, nearly half of Manitobans believe the government should take over day-to-day operations of privately-owned personal care homes, a new poll says.

The poll, conducted by Probe Research, found 47 per cent of Manitobans believe private care homes should pass into government hands, while nearly one-fifth think they should retain private ownership, and fully one-third are unsure.

Support for government takeover was above 50 per cent among women, Winnipeggers and Manitobans over age 55. It was also trending higher among those with family in a long-term care facility (49 per cent), compared to those with no personal connection to a care facility (40 per cent).

Probe surveyed 800 adults between Oct. 31 and Nov. 3, after the outbreak at Parkview Place had resulted in 22 COVID-19 deaths but before the tragic weekend at Maples care home when eight residents died within 48 hours.

Respondents were pulled from Probe’s online panel, as well as a national panel. No margin of error can be calculated for an online survey.

However, if the poll was taken today, Probe president Scott MacKay said he believes the support for government takeover would be even higher.

"When you get a third of your respondents being unsure, either you’ve asked an imprecise question or they truly don’t know just what to make of things; I really believe that people didn’t know what was going on," MacKay said Tuesday, suggesting the proportion of uncertain respondents would likely drop if the survey was taken again following the Maples incident.

"You can’t really be on the fence here anymore."

Over the last two months, Manitobans' confidence in the quality of care provided at local care homes has wavered. An August Probe survey (with a sample size of 1,049 Manitobans) found nearly half felt confident about the quality of care a loved one would receive in a private care facility, as Parkview Place was beginning to show signs of an outbreak.

By November, when long-term care homes have become clear hotspots for COVID-19, the rate of confidence had dropped 13 percentage points, to just 36 per cent.

Probe found those with no family members currently in care were more confident in the quality of care provided, with 63 per cent expressing confidence, compared to 30 per cent of those with loved ones in care homes.

MacKay believes confidence has likely dropped further as news of outbreaks and deaths has entered public conversation.

"The poll is relevant because it’s set in the time of what should the future of these places be and how concerned are we about them? But it’s dated in the sense that... what happened this weekend is incredible," he said. "The Maples issue was just so startling to people that I can't imagine it going any other way."

In August, Manitobans already deemed fixing long-term care facilities a major priority for provincial and federal governments, and by November, that proportion had only risen, with just shy of 90 per cent expressing the need for changes to the conditions at Canada’s care homes.

Nearly half of Manitobans believe fixing long-term care should be governments’ first priority, up from 35 per cent in August. MacKay believes that number is on the rise.

"This was not a top-of-mind topic for most people until recently," he said.

Twitter: @jsrutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers

Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.

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