Nova Scotia

Union calls North Preston COVID-19 assessment clinic 'subpar'

Nurses at the COVID-19 assessment clinic set up in North Preston, N.S., say the site has poor ventilation and is too small for proper physical distancing.

‘I believe they’re putting people at risk,’ says NSGEU leader

A COVID-19 assessment site was set up at the North Preston Community Centre, but nurses say the space has poor ventilation and little room for physical distancing. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The COVID-19 assessment clinic set up in North Preston, N.S., is putting patients and health-care workers at risk, the head of the province's largest union says.

North Preston is the province's oldest and largest black community.

The clinic was set up last week at the North Preston Community Centre, but nurses who work at the site say the space is not suitable for use as a COVID-19 assessment centre.

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said nurses told him last week that the clinic has poor ventilation and there is not enough room for physical distancing.

"If they're looking to address a situation and trying to get as many people tested as possible, I believe they're putting people at risk," he said.

Lack of response 'frustrating'

MacLean outlined the concerns in a letter, which he sent to Premier Stephen McNeil and the province's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, last Thursday.

He also sent a copy to the Public Service Commissioner, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the IWK and other provincial officials.

Jason MacLean is the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

As of Monday, MacLean said he had not heard back from the province, but an official from the Nova Scotia Health Authority called him to discuss his concerns. MacLean said he was told those concerns would be passed along to the appropriate person.

MacLean said it's "very frustrating" that he hasn't had a direct response from McNeil or Strang, especially after McNeil singled out the community as COVID-19 rulebreakers in an earlier press conference.

"You're not doing enough for the African Nova Scotian community,"  he said. "I'm saying that as both the president of NSGEU, who was told by his members that it's subpar, and as a black man that's dealt with the injustices within the province."

Should be handled on a 'local' level

In the province's COVID-19 briefing Monday, Strang said the concerns of union members should be handled at the "local level" and not brought to him and McNeil "to try to solve."

"We also have to understand there's an outbreak in that community ... and we're using what's available within the North Preston Community Centre because that's the infrastructure we have available," Strang said.

There are things that can be done to address health and safety concerns, Strang said, but those should be worked out between the union and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

"To point out a problem that I believe is real, and not only that, systemic, I think the politicians should be involved in that," MacLean said.

North Preston layout similar to other COVID-19 clinics

John Gillis, a spokesperson for the health authority, said in response to a request for greater testing capacity, the North Preston clinic had moved over the weekend into a larger gymnasium in the same complex. Starting Tuesday, Gillis said, two additional testing stations would be added.

"The space layout in the North Preston clinic is very similar to other clinics we have opened. The space was accessed, reviewed and approved by central zone infection prevention and control staff prior to opening," Gillis said in an email.

He said no issues have been raised by staff to the on-site manager.

"In fact, some staff have asked to be reassigned to the clinic because they enjoy working here," Gillis said.