Nova Scotia

Northwood 'devastated' by COVID-19 deaths, encouraged by recoveries

Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax has recorded 22 deaths, and more than 40 per cent of residents have been infected by COVID-19. But administrators say they're encouraged that 10 people have now recovered and been transferred to a hotel.

Long-term care facility in Halifax has recorded 22 deaths related to the virus

The Halifax campus of Northwood has been hard hit by COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Administrators at the Halifax long-term care home fighting an outbreak of COVID-19 say they're encouraged by the number of people recovering from the virus, but the emergency is not yet over.

Northwood is the largest long-term care facility in Nova Scotia, with 485 beds, and is facing the most significant outbreak of any facility in the province, with 208 residents and 73 staff infected.

CEO Janet Simm reported the latest figures Wednesday, which included nine new resident cases, two new staff cases and one new death. The facility has now seen 22 deaths related to COVID-19 in less than a month.

Simm said Northwood is familiar with caring for residents at the end of their lives, but the monthly average for resident deaths before the arrival of the pandemic was 10 to 12.

"We're of course devastated with the number of deaths associated with this virus," Simm said at a media briefing.

Emergency plan

On April 19, the province rolled out an emergency plan to manage the outbreak at Northwood, which included moving recovered patients into a hotel to make more room in COVID-19 units within the facility.

Many of the long-term care rooms in Northwood are built for double and triple occupancy, and administrators said Northwood is still working to reduce the number of people in those rooms.

Ten people have been transferred to the recovery units in hotels, said Simm, and between two and four more people would be evaluated for transfer on Wednesday.

By the end of last week, all staff and residents at Northwood had been tested for the virus, but executive director Josie Ryan said they will continuously retest.

"We're anticipating that because of the incubation period we will see more cases," said Ryan.

Janet Simm is president and CEO of Northwood. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

In its emergency response, the province also redeployed about 40 staff from the Halifax Infirmary, and the Nova Scotia Health Authority put out a call to health-care workers across the province to provide reinforcement.

Simm said some temporary staff are coming into Halifax from other parts of the province, and they're struggling to find places to stay.

"I understand these are very difficult times for landlords as well, but I would urge them to offer short-term leases for the brave people who are coming from outside of Halifax to assist us in our time of need."

Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday he wasn't aware of that challenge, but his government would step in to help if necessary.

"We would work with Northwood without question to provide the supports if someone is looking for housing," he said during the province's daily coronavirus update.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said staff reinforcements have helped to stabilize the outbreak at Northwood, and he considered the situation to be "under control."

Nine other long-term care homes in Nova Scotia have had cases of COVID-19, but none have had outbreaks as severe as the one at Northwood. Strang said Northwood's situation is unique because of the facility's size, which demands a large number of staff.

"That increases the opportunity for COVID activity to be brought in unknowingly," said Strang.

Strang said there are no longer active cases at the other long-term care facilities, but public health officials won't consider any of them to be virus-free until 28 days, or two incubation periods, have elapsed.