Nova Scotia review of Northwood COVID-19 outbreak to be completed by September

Province launches review into Northwood COVID-19 outbreak
WATCH: Nova Scotia is launching a review to better understand what happened to allow the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood. As Alicia Draus reports, only the recommendations will be made public.

Nova Scotia’s review of a long-term care home in Halifax that was the epicentre of the province’s COVID-19 outbreak will look to produce recommendations by Sept. 15.

Northwood Manor is the largest long-term care facility in Atlantic Canada.

During the outbreak, 345 people at the facility got sick — 246 residents and 99 staff members — from the disease.

Official tallies indicate 53 people died at the facility, or 84 per cent of the 63 people who have died from the disease in all of Nova Scotia.

Read more: Nova Scotia to be added as defendant in proposed class action against Northwood

The review will be completed under the Quality-improvement Information Protection Act and will be led by Dr. Chris Lata, an infectious disease consultant, and Lynn Stevenson, former associate deputy minister of health in British Columbia.

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It will not be a public inquiry, although Health Minister Randy Delorey left that option as a possibility down the line.

Delorey said that the goal is to get the answers quickly ahead of any potential second wave of the disease, rather than having to wait for the lengthy process of a public inquiry to be completed.

The recommendations will be made public after a review period but they will not be binding.

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‘Something has to do be done:’ Plaintiff in Northwood class action lawsuit wants accountability

According to the review’s term of reference, the committee will review and analyze the outbreak at Northwood to determine what contributed to the rapid spread of the disease.

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The actions the committee will take include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Identify the information that was available to Northwood at all stages of the outbreak
  • Review the response to the information that was available at each stage and whether the preparation and response to COVID-19 at Northwood was appropriate and timely during each stage of the outbreak
  • Determine whether staff movement throughout the facility contributed to the spread of COVID-19
  • Conduct a review of best practices and available evidence related to effective measures that control the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and apply this evidence to Northwood’s physical design

The review will include analysis of documents, interviews and on-site visits and will result in recommendations being made to the health minister for the purpose of “planning and managing the health system and conducting provincewide quality improvement activities related to the management of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.”

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Delorey said that the province will also complete a separate, internal review of “broader infection prevention” and control within the long-term care sector as well as review actions taken during the first wave of the disease.

Read more: Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union calls for staffing increase at province’s long-term care facilities

The Nova Scotia General Employees Union (NSGEU) responded to the review by calling it inadequate and that it “raises many unanswered questions.”

“It is unclear whether residents, NSHA employees who were redeployed to Northwood and unions will be included in this process,” the NSGEU said in a statement issued on Friday.

The organization called on the province to initiate a public inquiry instead and commit to sharing the full report and recommendations with the public.

“Fifty-three people died at this facility, and their families deserve to know what really happened,” said NSGEU president Jason MacLean in the statement

“They deserve to know how staffing issues and inadequate infection control made a bad situation worse. These families and all Nova Scotians deserve to know the answer to a very important question: ‘Was this avoidable?

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The provincial government has previously been non-committal when pressed on a review into Northwood, saying that COVID-19’s asymptomatic spread is why the outbreak at the facility got so bad.

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Delorey said that the decision to launch the review was not a result of the province being added as a defendant in a proposed class action against Northwood.

“A second wave is expected to come… so that’s why the timeline on the review is fairly aggressive,” said the health minister.

In a news release issued last week, Wagners Law Firm said Erica Surette — the proposed class-action plaintiff — intends to add the province as a defendant in the lawsuit, which alleges Northwood breached its legal obligations to its residents due to “inaction and inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Read more: 1 new coronavirus case related to travel identified in Nova Scotia

The notice of intended action issued to the province alleges the province was “negligent in various ways,” which caused or contributed to the unsafe operation of Northwood Halifax.

The suit claims the province’s negligence resulted in an “ideal environment for COVID-19 to spread throughout the facility.”

“Furthermore, once the outbreak hit, it is alleged that the province took no action to prevent, mitigate, or eliminate the lethal spread of COVID-19 or provide resources to enable Northwood staff to respond to the crisis conditions,” the suit claims.

With files from Global News’ Graeme Benjamin and Alicia Draus

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