New Brunswick

Horizon won't reveal if any staff have COVID-19

The Horizon Health Network won't reveal whether any of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

Head of HR defers questions to New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health

Maura McKinnon, chief human resource officer for the Horizon Health Network, said its 13,000 staff and physicians have the 'skills and the knowledge to provide the best possible care to those in need' during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Horizon Health Network)

The Horizon Health Network won't reveal whether any of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

"I would not be talking about anything related to personal health information of our staff," chief human resource officer Maura McKinnon said when questioned by CBC News during a video conference with the media Monday.

When reminded she wasn't being asked to divulge any identifying information, only whether any employees have the viral infection, McKinnon said all information related to COVID-19 cases is being managed through the office of New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health.

"And I would be looking for direction from there before we would be disclosing any information like that."

Other provinces are releasing information about cases involving health-care workers.

Over the weekend, neighbouring Nova Scotia announced a worker at the Magnolia residential care home in Enfield had tested positive for the virus, as did an employee at the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, and an employee at Lewis Hall, a private retirement-living community in Dartmouth.

McKinnon did mention some Horizon employees are in isolation and may be working from home. But that could be because of the requirement that anyone returning from international or interprovincial travel self-isolate for 14 days.

100 students, retirees start

She also said up to 100 health-care students and retirees were expected to start assisting Horizon on Monday. 

Roughly 900 students and retirees have offered to provide backup support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"We will continue to bring individuals in, in advance of [it] becoming a formal need," said McKinnon. "We want to ensure that we have the people on site and available to be able to support where needed, when needed."

She credited the regulatory bodies, such as the Nursing Association of New Brunswick, as being instrumental in expediting the licensing process, when required.

Screen for symptoms

McKinnon expects many of the students and retirees will initially work at the employee and visitor-screening checkpoints set up outside all facilities, which must be staffed every hour of the day, seven days a week, to ensure no one with symptoms is allowed to enter.

Every employee is asked a series of questions and if someone answers yes to any of the questions, that individual is asked to go home and contact Horizon's employee health department, which will conduct additional screening, she said.

"If required," the department will refer the employee to an assessment centre for testing.

Meanwhile, more than 130 staff have been redeployed so far to help with the pandemic response, said McKinnon.

All Horizon staff are deemed essential services, even those in non-medical positions, such as administration, and "do not have the luxury of staying at home," she said.

"They are needed now more than ever."

Some of their new roles include reviewing non-urgent and elective surgeries, setting up the COVID-19 community assessment centres and staffing the screening checkpoints.

No employees of other provincial government departments have been redeployed to the COVID-19 efforts yet, but "we may get to the point where we'd be reaching out," said McKinnon.

"I would say at this point nothing is off the table."

Concerns about protective equipment

Asked whether staff feel there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, often called PPE, McKinnon said Horizon follows the Public Health Agency of Canada's guidelines and is monitoring the amount it has.

"We are working very closely to make sure that our stocks are maintained at all times."

Some staff did raise concerns about "making sure they were comfortable and really confident" in putting on their personal protective equipment, said McKinnon.

Nurse educators and nurses from the infection prevention and control team have provided a refresher course for them, which has helped, she said. A webinar refresher is also available, she added.

At the forefront of the pandemic

Horizon is also offering staff and their families some extra wellness resources online, over the phone and through the employee family assistance program to help them through this challenging time, McKinnon said.

"Horizon's employees are at the forefront of this health-care pandemic. They leave their homes to be here for their communities providing safe and quality care in a time of crisis.

"And their families deserve credit for taking on additional roles at home and making it easier for staff to come to work. This is truly a difficult time for everyone," she said.

"Our staff are members of the community and I think they share probably the same concerns we all do as we learn to move forward and cope with COVID-19."

They are dealing with "the same challenges and issues that I think everybody is across the country and across the world."