Families of long-term care residents speak out after deaths at Northwood
HALIFAX -- The confirmation of three deaths at Northwood’s Halifax campus is prompting families to voice their concerns about how things are being handled within the facility.
Jenna Clark’s 74-year-old father lives in the Halifax campus, and shares a room with another resident who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
“It’s a small room. They’re sharing a bathroom, and one is living with COVID and the other is healthy, so that’s the situation we’re kind of dealing with right now,” says Clark.
Clark says her father was tested for COVID-19 earlier in the week and the result came back negative. But her family has been having difficult getting additional information from Northwood.
“We lost our patience yesterday after five days of not hearing anything, and hearing your government tell you they’re being isolated, and knowing full well they aren’t,” says Clark.
The province announced Saturday that three residents of Northwood had died of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths in the province to seven.
"My greatest fear was that this virus would make its way into our long-term care homes," said Premier Stephen McNeil in a statement Saturday. "I was so sad to learn of this devastating loss of life. We are working with Northwood to implement an emergency plan to isolate the virus and protect your loved ones."
Patti Nelson lives in Scotland but her 80-year-old mother lives at the Halifax Northwood facility.
On Saturday afternoon, Nelson learned her mother had tested positive for COVID-19 and is calling for urgent attention to be provided to the facility immediately.
“I’m frustrated because I’m over here, I can’t get on a plane, I can’t come over to see her,” says Nelson. “My sister and other members of my family said they would go in and help, but they can’t because obviously public health doesn’t want it spreading.”
On Friday, Northwood announced that nine more residents and seven more staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.
That makes it a total of 51 residents and 33 staff members at Northwood’s Halifax campus that have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement posted on their website Friday.
There have also been four home care workers and two health services staff from Northwood who have tested positive. Those numbers have not increased since April 12, but Northwood says they are currently testing additional Health Services staff for potential COVID-19 exposure, and those workers are now off work.
Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, spoke to the situation at Northwood during Friday's news conference.
"There absolutely will be a plan to support them moving forward, very quickly, with the necessary staffing or to address the necessary staffing challenges, and needs they have in front of them," said Dr. Strang.
"This situation is the one that keeps me awake," said McNeil during Friday's news conference. "We all hear this virus getting into long-term care facilities, and many of our loved ones who are in these facilities have underlying health issues."
"We will aggressively go after this virus inside of this facility, just as we have in this province," added McNeil.
“There needs to be something done, I’ve seen the news of what is happening in Ontario and Quebec, and it is absolutely heartbreaking,” says Patti Nelson.
Northwood may have the largest numbers, but they are far from the only long-term care facility being affected in the province.
As of April 18, the province was reporting eight licensed long-term care homes in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 67 residents and 48 staff.
On Saturday, Shannex confirmed that a resident who lived at Harbourstone Enhanced Care in Sydney died in hospital from COVID-19.
Some families are calling for the military to be called in to help.
“You don’t want to have huge numbers of people dying before you act,” says Nelson.
On Thursday, Northwood CEO Janet Simm said staffing at Northwood remains challenging as 80 people are currently off work -- about 40 per cent of them because of the virus.
Still, the centre's new pandemic relief team has already recruited 68 new employees, including laid-off day-care workers, airport staff, hotel cooks and others from the devastated food-services industry.
"We're just beginning to train and deploy those staff in the areas of need and that should help us dramatically," Simm said in an interview.
But "the staffing levels are certainly not at the level that we would normally be in. Most days, we're starting with 60 per cent of the staff on the unit."
The long-term care facility in downtown Halifax has 485 residents.