Sask. gov't remains mum on prospects of Parkside outbreak inquiry
41 residents have died in a COVID-19 outbreak at Regina's Parkside Extendicare home
The Saskatchewan government continues to refrain from saying whether it will hold a public inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak at Regina's Parkside Extendicare home, where 41 residents have died since late November.
The notion of an inquiry was first raised in mid-December by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN), followed closely by the Saskatchewan NDP.
Last week, both groups renewed their calls for a fact-finding process, with SUN sending a formal letter to Premier Scott Moe. The letter asked that any probe cover how COVID-19 got into the home, how it spread so quickly and broadly, what was done to lessen its impact and what preventative measures should be in place at the home going forward.
At the outbreak's height, more than three-quarters of Parkside's original inhabitants became infected.
In an emailed statement to CBC News last Friday, the Ministry of Health declined to directly address the question of an inquiry. The ministry did offer some details on its efforts to help prevent outbreaks in other care homes.
"We understand that [Saskatchewan Health Authority] has completed sites visits to all Extendicare facilities in Saskatchewan," the spokesperson said. "The results of these visits have been shared with homes who are working to address any risks identified.
"We acknowledge that this continues to be a difficult time for residents and families, and we want to thank the staff of the SHA and Extendicare for their commitment to the health and safety of those in their care."
Extendicare operates four other Saskatchewan care homes besides Parkside: two others in Regina, one in Moose Jaw and one in Saskatoon. An outbreak was declared at the Preston Extendicare facility in Saskatoon on Dec. 10.
According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), Extendicare is the only private company operating long-term care homes in the province under a contract with the health authority.
What the gov't has said before
The province has been asked at least twice before about a Parkside inquiry.
In a Dec. 16 statement to CBC News, the health ministry said, "Our focus is on the safety and well-being of residents at all long-term care and personal care homes."
In a COVID-19 news conference two weeks later, Health Minister Paul Merriman gave a similar answer when asked about a Parkside inquiry.
"What I'm really focused on right now is what's happening today, what's happening in the next week and the next month with the vaccine rollout, with our hospitalization numbers. I'm trying not to look back at this moment in time," he said. "Will there be a time where we, where I, do that? For sure."
CBC requested an interview with Merriman last week. Instead, four days later, the Ministry of Health sent its emailed statement, which did not clarify Merriman's remarks.
"We continue to support the SHA, who is working closely with Public Health, Infection Prevention and Control, and Occupational Health and Safety to ensure that guidelines and recommendations are followed closely," the statement read.
'We had enough time to really prepare for this'
Two professors of epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan agree a broad inquiry into how the province addressed COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes should be launched.
Nazeem Muhajarine said the timing of the Parkside outbreak sticks out in particular, relative to the outbreaks experienced in Ontario and Quebec early in the pandemic.
"It did not happen until at the height of the second wave in Saskatchewan," Muhajarine said. "We had enough time to really prepare for this. We are not acting quickly enough to get ahead of the virus."
Muhajarine's colleague Cory Neudorf said an inquiry could establish whether any factors specific to Saskatchewan could account for what happened.
"Then seeing, more importantly, how can those be then corrected into the future so that we have a long-term care system that is set up that's safer and is providing the type of care that we should expect for our seniors," Neudorf said.