Union says Sask.'s largest long-term care outbreak could have been lessened with more gov't action

The union says the Ministry of Health wasn't providing proper resources to the home.

Extendicare spokesperson says teams are supported, given the PPE they need at the beginning of each shift

Members of the Saskatchewan Patient Transfer Service work outside Extendicare Parkside in Regina. (Cory Herperger/CBC )

The union representing workers in the middle of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility in Saskatchewan says the outbreak could have been lessened with proper government action. 

Barbara Cape is the president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) West and a former cook at Parkside Extendicare in Regina.

As of Friday, a total of 90 Parkside residents had tested positive for COVID-19, alongside 34 staff members. On Monday, Parkside said nine people at the home have died after testing positive for the virus. 

Cape said that since the beginning of the pandemic, Extendicare was not providing the proper PPE masks that the chief medical health officer was calling for. Instead of surgical masks, staff were given masks meant to help people with allergies, she said.

"[Extendicare] were struggling to get the resources that they needed, whether that's staff, whether that's PPE, whether that's hand sanitizer," Cape said. 

In a written statement, an Extendicare Parkside spokesperson said all staff on site are provided 'with the PPE they need at the start of every shift.' (CBC)

Cape said the Ministry of Health should have done more follow through and inspections to make sure Extendicare had the proper resources.

"We are nine, 10 months into a pandemic and only now are those resources being put forward to Extendicare who are experiencing, quite frankly, an unbelievable outbreak that has affected so many staff and so many residents," Cape said. 

In a written statement, Laura Gallant, an Extendicare Parkside spokesperson said all staff on site are provided "with the PPE they need at the start of every shift." 

"Our teams are supported with regular training on PPE best practices to help keep both them and our residents safe. The SHA has been providing PPE to the home and Extendicare continues to supplement this as needed," Gallant said. 

Cape said she believes the outbreak could have been reduced if more had been done sooner. She said the Ministry of Health has dropped the ball. 

"My fear is that it's not quite plateaued yet," Cape said. "So we may see, you know, some further issues."

Health Minister Paul Merriman commented on the situation at Extendicare after question period Monday. 

"This is very concerning on multiple levels," Merriman said. "Obviously, the health of the individuals is the first and foremost.

"Across the board, we're doing spot audits to make sure that everybody is complying with the public health orders."

Minister of Health Paul Merriman said the situation at Parkside Extendicare is very concerning. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Merriman said the SHA is also moving other health-care staff to help with the staffing concerns during the outbreak.

Gallant said this has been an extraordinarily difficult time for the community and that staff have gone above and beyond to keep residents safe. 

"All available resources have been deployed to remove this virus from Parkside as quickly as possible," Gallant said. "As the spread of the virus in the community increases, the risk of outbreaks in long-term care goes up."

As of Friday, a total of 90 Parkside residents had tested positive for COVID-19, alongside 34 staff members. (CBC)

Extendicare has been working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) on managing the outbreak, Gallant said. 

Gallant said Extendicare has been calling for weekly staff testing in all long-term care homes to identify cases early and is heartened that the SHA has said it is supportive and ready to implement the program. 

More staff needed to help relieve workers: SEIU West

Cape said Extendicare has been working to get more PPE and more staff during the pandemic, but that more is needed. 

"They are doing everything they possibly can," Cape said.

She said she's concerned about staff burnout at the facility. As staff are in isolation, people are working 16 hour shifts on a regular basis, she said.

"They are concerned about what they're bringing home to their families. And I don't blame them for being concerned," she said.

"This is a really scary moment where a pandemic simply sweeps through a facility, through a facility. And you cannot you can't stop it. You can't slow it down. You're just managing."

With files from Morgan Modjeski, Guy Quenneville and Heidi Atter


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