Majority of recommendations from infection control report now in place
All short-term recommendations from Northwood report are also complete
The Nova Scotia Health Department has completed all but one of the 24 recommendations from a report last fall on infection prevention and control in long-term care homes.
The report was ordered by then-health minister Randy Delorey following a vicious outbreak of COVID-19 at Northwood, the Halifax-based long-term care site. The virus overwhelmed the site last spring, with 345 residents and staff contracting COVID-19 and 53 residents dying from the disease.
At the time, the specialty COVID unit at the Halifax Infirmary was relocated to Northwood to help get the outbreak under control.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Health Department said the only outstanding recommendation, which remains a work in progress, is an accountability reporting system.
The department plans to spend an additional $32.5 million this year for staff and resources deemed critical to the work, including occupational health and safety, infection prevention and control experts, and long-term care assistants.
A program to support the mental health and well-being of long-term care staff was also launched at the beginning of the month and will cover more than 2,000 new people through the employee and family assistance program.
The department has previously announced the establishment of regional care units for long-term care residents who test positive for COVID-19, and the provincial health authority is putting together "deployment centres" that can help long-term care homes with additional staffing, should it become necessary in the event of an outbreak.
At the time of the infection control report, the government also received a report specifically focused on Northwood, its experience with COVID and the future of the site.
The department spokesperson said all short-term recommendations from that report are now in place and work continues on the long-term recommendations, some of which would require legislation.
Crisis provided opportunity
Health Minister Leo Glavine said he's hoping a silver lining that can come from the pandemic is the continued nimble response by government and the health-care system to issues as they're raised.
"Look at virtual care — what we were hoping to do in five years we did in six months," he told reporters following a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
"So the crisis has also provided opportunity and lessons learned, and we hoped to see implementation more along this line in the future."
Opposition leaders said the quick action on changes to the health-care system during the pandemic proves that when there is a will, things can be done in a timely way.
"When we see the delays it's a failure in leadership," said Tory Leader Tim Houston.
"We don't want to see the system revert back to the slower pace and that's going to mean that we have leadership that focuses on the patient: patient-centred health care, that's what we need in this province."
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the changes to Nova Scotia's health system and other government programs during the pandemic prove that when there is a real political commitment to something, there is an enormous capacity to bring about change.
"We also saw this on the whole question of incomes with the CERB program," he said, referring to the federal aid program.
"For literally decades it had been said by the government that the question of a basic income program was something so infinitely complex that it could barely be addressed. It turned out, in an emergency situation, the government had the capacity in the civil service to bring a program into effect virtually overnight."
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