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NSGEU calls on government to protect front-line workers at Northwood amid coronavirus outbreak

Click to play video: 'More than 200 residents, staff at 10 nursing homes infected with COVID-19' More than 200 residents, staff at 10 nursing homes infected with COVID-19
WATCH: Across the country about half of all COVID-19 deaths are related to outbreaks in long-term care facilities. As Alicia Draus reports, the biggest outbreak is at Northwood in Halifax. – Apr 22, 2020

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) says nurses redeployed to Northwood Manor amid a coronavirus outbreak at the home are reporting concerns about the health and safety of vulnerable seniors due to poor infection control and limited safety protocols at the facility.

“Our members are telling us it was like walking into a war zone,” NSGEU president Jason MacLean said in a news release Wednesday.

The Halifax long-term care home has been getting additional help from nurses and other health-care workers from hospitals, nursing homes and other organizations after the president and CEO of Northwood, Janet Simm, announced on Monday that its staff cannot handle the outbreak alone.

READ MORE: Northwood to increase testing following 36 new cases of COVID-19 at Halifax campus

Over the weekend, the province ordered the COVID-19 unit at the Halifax Infirmary to move to Northwood.

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Northwood reported its eighth death connected to the coronavirus on Wednesday.

The union says its members are working at two coronavirus-positive units, one an 11th-floor unit with a capacity of 16 and an occupancy of 12 residents, and the other a first-floor unit with a capacity of 22-23 beds that is fully occupied.

READ MORE: 2 more deaths reported at Northwood as Nova Scotia identifies 35 new cases of coronavirus

“When they got to Northwood there was no supplies for them, actually yesterday, they were down to three gowns, and the first night they were there, they ran out of wipes and ran out of Purell, so just the basic necessities weren’t even provided,” MacLean told Global News.

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He went on to say that a lot of the residents, who are considered sick or presumed infected, at Northwood are walking around the place, trying to use the phone and touching everything.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia to cover extra dispensing fees for pharmacare clients during coronavirus pandemic

“There’s really no control of who is going where and it’s mayhem,” he said. “What Northwood expressed to us is that they have no ability to separate anybody because of the physical plan, and they consider the whole building to be presumptive COVID-19, and they’re running it as such.”

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MacLean said concerns being brought forth by front-line workers at Northwood include lack of infection control measures to protect vulnerable seniors and front-line workers, lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) available on both units where NSGEU members are working, and lack of consistent, thorough cleaning of these units.

“[NSGEU members] are worried about their own safety — they just want to care for the patients that are there and they’re doing an amazing job,” MacLean said.

READ MORE: 6th death reported at Northwood as Nova Scotia identifies 16 more cases of coronavirus

He said the NSGEU brought these concerns forward to the premier, the minister of health and wellness, and the chief medical officer on Monday, but “NSGEU members continue to report concerns that put both seniors and workers at risk.”

“We’re sick and tired of waiting on government and the employer to act on it. If you ask somebody to risk their lives then you should do everything you can to protect them and they’re just not doing that,” MacLean said.

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The NSGEU is calling on the government to take steps to ensure its members can continue to provide much-needed care to the residents and staff at Northwood.

MacLean said the union is calling for five key recommendations for infection control in long-term care facilities to be mandated:

  • Limiting non-essential visits.
  • Keeping staff from working in multiple settings.
  • Ensuring everyone wears PPE.
  • Making sure infection and control measures are in place.
  • Making sure residents and families are supported.

“Our nurses are doing the best job they can there, but they are breaking down crying every day,” said MacLean. “The employer seems to play it down as if it’s not a hard place to be.”

He said NSGEU front-line health-care workers remain committed to working with the government to fight COVID-19 and protect vulnerable seniors at Northwood Manor, provided they are supported and feel safe at work.

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How to care for the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic – Mar 24, 2020

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, chief public health officer Dr. Robert Strang said the province is addressing all legitimate concerns, but says he’s spoken with an infection control practitioner at Northwood who says there is no validity to the NSGEU’s complaint.

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“I’m very concerned how they are taking concerns publicly, they are using fear-mongering and hyperbole in how they are addressing the situation,” said Strang.

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