Nova Scotia

Relative calls on N.S. to name care homes with COVID-19 cases

A man whose mother died of complications from COVID-19 at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney last week is calling on the Nova Scotia government to release more details on the location of long-term care homes where the virus has been found.

Man whose mother died from complications while living in a long-term care home says public needs to know

A man whose mother lived at the Harbourstone care home in Sydney River, N.S., and died of complications from COVID-19 is calling on the Nova Scotia government to provide more information to the public. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A Boston man whose mother died of complications from COVID-19 at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S., last week is calling on the Nova Scotia government to release more details on the location of long-term care homes where the virus has been found.

Robert Moulaison's mother, Pearl Moulaison, contracted COVID-19 while living at Shannex's Harbourstone care home in Sydney River.

He said his 81-year-old mother was treated well at the care home and the regional hospital, where she died last week, but Moulaison said the province needs to tell the public where and when someone gets the virus.

Otherwise, people will not take safety measures seriously, Moulaison said.

"If you don't tell people that this is happening there and where this is happening ... people get the tendency of feeling well ... 'Maybe we can lax off on things and not take this social distancing for real.' It's for real."

Last week, the province's chief medical officer of health began reporting COVID-19 case numbers in long-term care homes, but Dr. Robert Strang said he would not name facilities where there are few cases, because that could lead to a breach of personal privacy.

Spike in long-term care

The move followed a spike in residents and staff in long-term care homes testing positive for COVID-19.

The province said Wednesday that the latest numbers show there were 10 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors' facilities with cases of COVID-19, involving 148 residents and 65 staff.

Eight of the province's 12 people who died as a result of the virus had been residents at the Northwood care facility in Halifax. The large numbers there prompted Strang to name Northwood.

Not all care homes publicly post information about COVID-19 cases.

The first death, a resident of the Northside Community Guest Home in North Sydney, occurred April 6. At the time, the Northside home did not return multiple requests for comment by media, including CBC.

Three days later, the guest home posted the death on its Facebook page, and 10 days later created a new website where it says it will post any new information.

Pearl Moulaison, at Harbourstone, was the province's fourth person to die of complications from the virus.

Tricia Ralph, Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner, says privacy protection legislation does allow a balancing act between personal privacy and the public's right to know. (Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner)

Shannex also posts information on the number of cases on its website and acknowledged the death of a resident two days after Moulaison died.

Tricia Ralph, Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner, said privacy protection legislation is not absolute. The law allows a balancing act between personal privacy and the public's right to know, she said.

Custodians of personal information — including the provincial government and care home operators — can release non-identifying information when necessary.

'Curiosity not enough'

"The custodian can disclose personal health information without consent if they believe on reasonable grounds that the disclosure will avert or minimize an imminent and significant danger to the health or safety of any person or class of persons," Ralph said.

"It's not enough that the public is curious or interested. There really needs to be a real reason for the custodian to believe that overriding the privacy of patients will minimize or avoid a harm."

Robert Moulaison, who has family living in nearby Glace Bay, said he would not have objected to Strang announcing the location of his mother's death.

"He does not have to say her name, but they should be telling what facilities have been affected so people are aware of it," Moulaison said.

"There is no way of keeping this quiet about who it is if you're in Glace Bay. It just doesn't happen with social media the way it is now."

Shannex, which operates the Harbourstone care home in Sydney River, is one of the companies that posts non-identifying COVID-19 cases on its website. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Shannex president Jason Shannon said in an email that communicating with residents, families, staff and the public is important and that's why his company posts non-identifying information on its website.

"We believe sharing this information internally and externally is an important part of protecting the health and safety of residents and team members, while ensuring we maintain a trusting relationship with our stakeholders," he said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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