COVID-19 outbreak at Sackville long-term care home focus of political back-and-forth

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COVID-19: Long-term care outbreak centre of political discourse
WATCH: Drew Nursing Home in Sackville has seen 40 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff in the past month. That prompted a war of words on either side of the legislature, with a local MLA questioning the province’s response – Oct 13, 2021

A long-term care home in Sackville, N.B. is calling for a ceasefire after provincial politicians began a war of words around the handling of an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak on site.

Drew Nursing Home has confirmed 40 cases of COVID-19 in the past month — 30 in residents and 10 in staff since September 13. Eight residents have died.

Area MLA and Green Party health critic Megan Mitton questions why it’s the facility themselves communicating these numbers and not the province.

“This has been a really severe outbreak,” she said, “and I think there are some questions that need to be answered.”

Green Party health critic Megan Mitton says there are many questions around the province’s COVID response. Via Zoom

Previously, through the first, second and third waves of COVID-19, Public Health reported which long-term care homes were fighting outbreaks and receiving help from Provincial Outbreak Management Response Teams (PROMT).

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Numbers tied to ongoing outbreaks were communicated within daily COVID news releases or at on-camera briefings.

That’s no longer the case.

In a release issued Tuesday, Mitton called for a “formal, independent investigation” into the response to this outbreak.

“The Higgs Government just fell asleep at the wheel with the pandemic,” Mitton said, referencing a late-summer move to lift restrictions provincewide.

“They were really hesitant to bring them back, even though the fourth wave has just crashed into New Brunswick,” she said.

“I really think we need some more transparency and we need to take a look at whether the government’s response has been adequate, specifically, was the government response adequate with the outbreak at the Drew Nursing Home.”

The outbreak at the Drew began Sept. 13, almost two weeks before the province reinstated its mandatory order and restrictions included therein, though masks were again made mandatory indoors on Sept. 20.

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Since then, staff at the facility have kept in touch with families as cases climbed inside.

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“We wouldn’t know otherwise what was going on,” Mitton said.

The province’s social development minister, Bruce Fitch, said in a radio interview the morning after Mitton’s press release that he was disappointed she didn’t come to him with her concerns instead of blasting the process.

She said she did.

“I did reach out to Minister Fitch more than once, I didn’t receive a response,” said Mitton.

Global News connected with the minister on Wednesday, and he said he’s still open for a chat with Mitton.

“I’ve got a number of phones, a number of people answering phones,” said Fitch. “Again, I would encourage her to reach out.”

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He said, should she be looking for information on the province’s response protocol, she need only ask her party leader.

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“David Coon is on the COVID committee, which has access to Dr. Russell herself, the minister of health, the minister of education,” said Fitch.

“If there’s a question about information sharing, maybe she should look a little closer to her own party.”

That all-party COVID-19 committee hasn’t been around through the entirety of the outbreak at the Drew long-term care home, however.

It was tossed out with the provincial rules at the end of July and brought back at the beginning of October.

Regardless, Fitch pondered if Mitton’s comments are doing more harm than good at the Drew.

“It’s a little disheartening I think for the employees who have been working so hard when they hear the local MLA casting doubt or disparity on what they’ve done,” he says.

Now, the facility itself is issuing a press release calling for the discussion to be shelved.

“At this point in time, we would urge everyone to push pause on any calls for a review of the process,” writes Catherine Gaw, chair of the board of directors at the facility.

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She said executive director Linda Shannon is in regular meetings with medical and government officials alike.

The release also states 12 positive COVID-19 cases remain at the facility after a number of recoveries.

“Our commitment is to ensure the care of our residents. We know this past month has been difficult for all involved. But we believe we are beginning to reach a resolution,” writes Gaw.

Both Mitton and Fitch took time from their conversations with Global News to applaud the hard work of those on the frontline of the outbreak.

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