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Families call for transparent review of coronavirus outbreak at Northwood that left 53 dead

Review into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood underway
The COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood is considered the largest in the region and more than 80 per cent of the people who died in Nova Scotia were from that facility. But Alicia Draus reports that some families day a review isn’t enough, and they deserve more transparency.

Gerald Jackson was not always around for his daughter Charlene Chiddenton as she grew up. But later in life, his daughter was there for him, and brought him back to Nova Scotia to help him cope with dementia.

Chiddenton says she’ll always remember dancing with her father at her wedding, and that he loved to dance and always liked to be the life of the party.

“He liked to tell jokes,” she recalled. “He wasn’t good at it, but he liked to tell jokes, and he thought they were funny.”

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

Gerald Jackson was among the 53 people who died at Northwood Manor in Halifax following an outbreak of COVID-19. He was 84. The Navy veteran would have turned 85 on Remembrance Day.

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The last time Chiddenton saw her father was on March 7, just before the provincial government put visitor restrictions for long-term care facilities.

Her father contracted the virus just over a month later, after one of his two roommates initially tested positive. The roommate had never been transferred out of their room because by that point, the COVID-19 unit was full.

“As soon as we found out someone in dad’s room had COVID, we knew it was only a matter of time.”

Review into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood underway
Review into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood underway

Her father died just days after the positive diagnosis.

“The day he got tested is the day I went over to wave to him outside the window, and that was the last visual I had of him,” said Chiddenton.

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She says while staff did what they could to take care of her father, she takes issue with the facility itself and the three-bed rooms. When they first moved their father into the facility, Chiddenton and her sister had requested a private room.

Charlene Chiddenton says long-term care facilities need to move away from shared rooms, particularly rooms with three or more people.
Charlene Chiddenton says long-term care facilities need to move away from shared rooms, particularly rooms with three or more people.

“We signed up the paper work and all they talked about was semi-private rooms and private rooms,” she says.

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It wasn’t until they were actually moving her father in that they learned the facility had three-bed rooms and her father was being placed in one.

“What could you do at that point, there you are with all your dad’s belonging and they said this is his room this is where he has to start,” said Chiddenton.

READ MORE: Northwood seeks private rooms after COVID tragedy, but will N.S. fund the fix?

The province has now launched a review into the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood. It is being carried out by two health-care experts who will provide the government with their recommendations in September.

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The recommendations will be made public, but the findings won’t — part of why Chiddenton disagrees with the review approach.

“I just think a review is not enough because things can be hidden and not told,” said Chiddenton.

Coronavirus: Nova Scotia appoints Quality Improvement Committee to review Northwood COVID-19 outbreak
Coronavirus: Nova Scotia appoints Quality Improvement Committee to review Northwood COVID-19 outbreak

She says she would like to see the province launch a public inquiry, so the findings are transparent and all families can take part.

“I think it should be a bipartisan across the board. Everybody gets to know what’s happening, from the families to all sides of government not just Liberal, all people get to know.”

The province has said that they chose a review over a public inquiry because they can get results sooner. The goal is to have recommendations in time to implement change before a second wave.

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The government has also indicated that families will be consulted, though they are leaving that up to the review committee and cannot say if all families will be contacted.

At this point, Chiddenton has not been contacted by the committee and would like for the process to be more transparent. But she’s hoping at the very least the review can lead to change.

If not, she’s also part of a class action lawsuit launched against Northwood by the families who lost loved ones due to COVID-19.

“I’m not looking to make money off dad’s death, I’m looking for change because of dad’s death,” she said.

“If I have to go as far as a lawsuit then I will. I’ll be an advocate for my father.”

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She says her biggest concern remains about shared rooms, particularly when there are three or more individuals to a room. It’s a practice she would like to see end.

“We’re warehousing our seniors and that needs to stop,” she said.

“It’s clearly an issue that needs to change across the country and maybe because of COVID and how many we’ve lost across the country it will finally become to be.”