Sask. ombudsman says probe into Parkside outbreak will look at government's role, too

Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan's minister in charge of seniors, said the deaths of 38 seniors at the private Regina care home are of significant concern. Extendicare is contracted by the province to run the home.

Deaths of 38 residents of significant concern, minister in charge of seniors says

Mary McFadyen is Saskatchewan’s ombudsman, which is an independent role. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's ombudsman says she intends to expand the focus of her investigation into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Parkside Extendicare to include the role of the provincial government in overseeing and supporting Extendicare. 

"As an independent officer of the legislative assembly, I have the authority to investigate matters on my own initiative," Mary McFadyen wrote to Minister in Charge of Seniors Everett Hindley on Friday. 

"Therefore, I intend to investigate Extendicare Parkside's handling and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the Saskatchewan Health Authority's and the Ministry of Health's oversight over Extendicare Parkside and their support of the handling of the outbreak."

McFadyen's letter came soon after Saskatchewan government outlined what it would like to see examined during the investigation — a long list that nevertheless kept the focus solely on Extendicare, the only private for-profit company contracted by the health authority to run care homes in Saskatchewan. 

Saskatchewan's minister in charge of seniors outlined what he would like covered in the provincial ombudsman's investigation into the Parkside outbreak. The ombudsman said she will focus in part on the government's role in overseeing the home's operator. (CBC)

Thirty-eight residents died during the outbreak at Parkside Extendicare, which was first declared in late November, then declared over last week. 

The probe into its circumstances was promised by the Saskatchewan government two weeks ago, after the government was pressed to do so by health care unions and the Saskatchewan NDP.

Though McFadyen has free reign to examine factors she believes are relevant, Hindley said her investigation should look at whether Extendicare staff were properly using personal protective equipment — a subject of recent concern among workers at a sister Extendicare facility in Saskatoon currently dealing with an outbreak.

McFadyen's investigation should also look at how the Parkside building's condition contributed to the spread of the outbreak, Hindley said, as well as "Extendicare Parkside's adherence to The Housing and Special-care Homes Regulations and obligations under its Principles and Services Agreement."

The latter agreement refers to Extendicare's contract with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to operate the 220-person bed facility.

The Saskatchewan NDP said it was disappointed the government's request did not include references to the financial arrangements of Extendicare as the only for-profit operator of care homes in Saskatchewan.

Building flagged as problem for years

The Parkside building's physical condition and layout have been flagged as problems for years. 

"Facility infrastructure and functionality remains a huge issue for the Extendicare sites," the 2015 Parkside inspection report stated.

Four years later, inspectors visiting Parkside noted that "the current design, with a large number of four-bed rooms, does not meet current standards of care or resident and family expectations for a home environment." 

Talks between the province and Extendicare about building a new facility have stretched on for years, according to the inspection reports.

More recently, in December — after the SHA took over operations at Parkside at the height of the outbreak — Extendicare officials said areas of the home were found to have "extremely poor" air flow. 

List of other investigation topics

Hindley also said the investigation ought to cover something the CEO of the health authority, Scott Livingstone, has said he wants any probe to address: "Extendicare Parkside's adherence to provincial public health orders and guidance established by the Ministry of Health, the Province's chief medical officer of health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority."

The probe should also look at Extendicare's process for notifying the SHA about the outbreak, Hindley said. Health officials publicly announced the outbreak on Nov. 20.

Other factors Hindley says are worth scrutinizing include:

  • Extendicare's pre-outbreak infection prevention and control practices.
  • What the company learned from other jurisdictions' experiences with earlier COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • How Extendicare found the initial positive cases at Parkside "and circumstances that led to further transmission."
  • The process of notifying residents and their families about cases.

No deadline for public report

The ombudsman can make recommendations in their final report, but they are not binding.

There is no legislated timeline for the ombudsman to publicly release their findings.

CBC News asked the Saskatchewan government when it would like to see that happen.

"It would not be appropriate to direct the ombudsman's work in that manner," a cabinet spokesperson said. "We feel confident in the ombudsman's ability to conduct a thorough investigation independently in a timeline that the ombudsman views as appropriate."


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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