Immediate action required to protect seniors and workers at Northwood Manor

Since writing this story 2 days ago, 4 more people have died due to COVID-19. 

Halifax (23 April 2020) — Nurses redeployed to Northwood Manor are reporting extremely serious concerns about the health and safety of vulnerable seniors due to poor infection control and limited safety protocols at the facility.

"Horrible" conditions at Northwood Manor

Government’s Ministerial Order forced nurses and other health care workers to leave the Halifax Infirmary and report to the epicenter of the COVID outbreak at Northwood. Members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees' Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) are working at 11 Manor, an 11th floor unit with a capacity of 16 and an occupancy of 12 residents, and 1 Centre a first-floor unit with a capacity of 22-23 beds which is fully occupied. Both are COVID-positive units.

One staff member described the conditions at Northwood Manor as “horrible” and noted there is little wonder why the virus has run rampant through the facility, given the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and basic infection control protocols in place.

“Our members are telling us it was like walking into a war zone,” said Jason MacLean, NSGEU President. “They desperately want to help these seniors in their terrible time of need. But for the safety of those seniors and the staff, this has to be done correctly or things will continue to deteriorate.”

NSGEU/NUPGE alerted Premier of health concerns

Here is a list of a few of the concerns these frontline workers have brought to the union's attention:

  • Lack of infection control measures to protect vulnerable seniors and front line workers ;
  • Lack of appropriate PPE available on both units;
  • Lack of consistent, thorough cleaning of these units;
  • Clustering of both negative and positive seniors together on some units, making it confusing as to who is positive or negative;
  • Lack of patient armbands to identify which patients require medications;
  • Lack of “clean rooms” (a space that is not accessible to patients where staff can safely don PPE without risk of contamination);
  • And lack of garbage receptacles to properly dispose of contaminated PPE, so workers must carry them through the unit, potentially contaminating “clean” areas.

The NSGEU/NUPGE brought these concerns forward to the Premier, Minister of Health & Wellness, and Chief Medical Officer on Monday, April 20, but NSGEU/NUPGE members continue to report concerns that put both seniors and workers at risk.

“Our nurses and frontline healthcare workers have put their own personal safety and lives on the line by going to work at the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis, and they feel betrayed by our government,” said MacLean.

Nova Scotia government needs to put care first

NSGEU /NUPGE s calling on government to take the following steps to ensure our members can continue to provide much needed care to the residents and staff at Northwood Manor:

  • Allow these workers access to N95 masks, as these are COVID-positive units;
  • Ensure PPE supplies are available at the entrance of each room, so staff are able to safely respond to a patient in crisis;
  • An increased and sustained presence of Infection Control to educate staff and ensure protocols are being followed;
  • Allow these units to develop a model of care and staff appropriately for patient ratio and acuity;
  • Removal of humidifiers from all patient rooms;
  • Ensure units are deep-cleaned by housekeeping and then maintained with regular cleanings per day;
  • Establish clean rooms for donning PPE, charting and breaks;
  • And provide yellow bags to ensure contaminated PPE is disposed of properly and ensure there are sufficient receptacles in each patient room.

NSGEU/NUPGE frontline healthcare workers remain committed to working with government to fight COVID-19 and protect vulnerable seniors at Northwood Manor, provided they are supported and feel safe at work.

“Premier McNeil needs to learn to work collaboratively with workers, and to hear and respect the concerns they are bringing forward. They are the trained professionals, and they know what is needed to protect both them and the clients,” MacLean said.

“By forcing our members to work without the appropriate safety protocols in place, government is essentially forcing them to put their license to practice on the line, as well.”

Government forced workers to work in unsafe conditions

NSGEU/NUPGE and the other unions representing frontline healthcare workers already had the Good Neighbour Protocol in place, and had reached an additional agreement with government to call for volunteers to temporarily redeploy to Northwood Manor. The Premier’s order to force workers into the Manor was unnecessary and, without the proper precautions taken, potentially put more lives at risk.

Furthermore, management did not notify health care workers of their redeployment: they learned of the move from social media posts and the news media.

NSGEU/NUPGE is only going public with these concerns now because all other avenues to deal with the safety issues and concerns for the residents and members have been exhausted. 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE