Saskatoon

Challenge with 'flow of information' over Lloydminster hospital outbreak: Premier Scott Moe

The premier said he did not know about the outbreak until Wednesday, although the medical health officer for the region where the hospital is located said he notified the Health Ministry on Sunday.  

COVID-19 transmission in hospital infected 5 health care staff, 8 patients

The Lloydminster hospital is now cohorting patients with COVID-19 into a separate unit. (hxdbzxy/Shutterstock)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says there was a challenge in the "flow of information" about a COVID-19 outbreak at the Lloydminster Hospital, which was not made public until three days after it was discovered. 

The premier said he did not know about the outbreak until Wednesday, although the medical health officer for the region where the hospital is located said he notified the Ministry of Health on Sunday.  

Moe said his government is working hard to ensure Health Minister Jim Reiter and the public have access to information in a timely manner.  

"I think there's a responsibility for us to be as transparent — all of us, including the Saskatchewan Health Authority — to be as transparent as possible with the people of this province," said Moe at a news conference on Thursday.  

"In particular now that we are beyond one and maybe two cases of COVID ... in many of these communities," he said.

"We are now into an area where we want to identify and isolate, contact trace and isolate, any perceived outbreaks quicker.… Very, very quickly." 

Confusion over when ministry was notified

The premier deferred further questions to the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, Scott Livingstone, who was not part of the news conference. CBC has requested an interview with Livingstone. 

Five health-care workers and eight patients were infected with COVID-19 through transmission at the hospital, which is run by the Saskatchewan Health Authority and located on the Saskatchewan side of the city, which is located on the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

A further two cases in the city of 30,000 were confirmed Thursday, but it is not clear if they are linked to the hospital. 

The Lloydminster Hospital is adapting after 13 cases of COVID-19 were linked to the facility. (Submitted)

Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, the medical health officer for the provincial health authority's northern region, which includes Lloydminster, said in a news conference on Wednesday that the Ministry of Health was notified on Sunday.

He said the information was not made public until Wednesday to avoid panic.

"The hope is always that you will control the situation, because there is also a balance between sending an alarm to the community too soon and you have to balance that with the negative impact that may result," he said. 

40 hospital staff self-isolating: union president

Tracy Zambory, the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said transparency has been an issue since the pandemic discussions began earlier in the year. 

"They said that this would be transparent, there would be no secrets, and it seems like when the rubber hits the road that's what we're up against always, is a lack of transparency," she said. 

"Let's manage this together, because we don't want an isolated outbreak to turn into a disaster."

Zambory said she asked for an explanation about why the outbreak was not announced earlier in a teleconference with the Ministry of Health earlier in the day but did not receive a response. 

"The conversation has been that we will have these pockets of isolated outbreaks," she said.

"It's imperative, you would think, that as soon as those numbers were met and people understood what was going on, that would be shared with the public so that we could keep the outbreak isolated."

Lloydminster straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Lloydminster Hospital is on the Saskatchewan side. (CBC Radio-Canada)

Zambory said a call has been issued for workers in other areas to backfill more than 40 hospital staff who are now self-isolating. A similar call was previously issued for La Loche, which has also seen an outbreak. 

She said she received reports from workers who said there were problems with usage of personal protective equipment. 

"People didn't feel like they had the proper education and the proper orientation, and that things happened so fast that even personal protective equipment hadn't been organized properly," said Zambory, adding that a local union representative said the issue has since been addressed. 

"That led to a potential where somebody could be getting sick because it all came together so quickly, it sounds like, that all of a sudden people inside of the hospital were showing symptoms, and someone who had been transferred out started showing symptoms," she said.

"It was just like a perfect storm of a disaster waiting to happen, really, and it happened."

Mayor not informed until Wednesday

Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers said the city learned of the outbreak of 13 cases in a news release sent out at 3 p.m. CST Wednesday. He also learned that Lloydminster would be excluded from Saskatchewan's reopening plan, starting May 4, through the news release. 

"There's mixed feelings about just finding out about it yesterday, but at the same token I do understand this is a complicated and unprecedented situation that we're in, we haven't had to face this before," said Aalbers. 

"There's a lot of trial-by-error going on all the way around. Communication is key but by the same token there is always concerns about ensuring the right information is being given at the right time."

A total of 34 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Lloydminster. Eighteen people have recovered from the virus. 

Mayor agrees with city's exclusion from Phase 1 

Restrictions are not yet being lifted in Alberta but, prior to yesterday's announcement, the City of Lloydminster had decided to follow the lead of Saskatchewan by joining the five-phase reopening plan starting May 4. 

Aalbers said Wednesday he agrees with Saskatchewan's decision to exclude Lloydminster from the first phase of the plan.

He said he's not sure how much difference it would have made to public opinion if the information about the outbreak had been released earlier. 

"The sooner you have information, and correction information, it does give you a little bit more time," said Aalbers. 

Aalbers said there is "a great deal of concern" in the community and he is aware of frustrations among members of the public that they were not informed earlier. 

He said he has not had direct communication from Premier Moe but he has now been contacted by the Ministry of Health. 

"I do appreciate that it's a very fluid situation there and I'm not here to defend or prosecute anybody from that perspective," said Aalbers. 

NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said the information should have been made public earlier. 

He said it is important for any community that is affected by an outbreak to have "early and clear" indications of what's going on so that they can protect themselves.

Meili added that trying to avoid "panic" was not a good reason to keep the public in the dark. 

"We haven't had Saskatchewan people panic, we've had Saskatchewan people act very responsibly, said Meili. 

"I trust that the people of Lloydminster would have taken that information and used it well."

'We can't close our city'

Premier Moe was asked Wednesday if travel restrictions like those in place for the northern area around La Loche, Sask., where there is an outbreak with 52 active cases, would be considered. He said further inter-provincial travel restrictions are being discussed.

Aalbers hopes any further travel restrictions do not apply in Lloydminster.

"We can't close our city, per se, if there was to be such a case," said Aalbers.

"We have people who live in one side of the city and work on the other side, our municipal infrastructure is on both sides of the city … it would be challenging if that ends up happening, we hope it doesn't happen."

COVID-19 patients are now being cohorted in separate units in the Lloydminster Hospital. The SHA said COVID-19 patients will continue to be admitted to the facility but non-COVID-19 patients requiring admission may be diverted to another hospital.

SHA said key emergency department, emergency surgical and obstetrical services remain available at Lloydminster Hospital, but that could change based on the "ongoing risk assessment."

About the Author

Alicia Bridges is a digital and broadcast journalist at CBC Saskatoon. Email her at alicia.bridges@cbc.ca.

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