3 more units on ‘outbreak watch’ as Foothills hospital battles COVID-19

CBC News has learned that Calgary’s Foothills hospital, which is battling the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in Alberta, has put three additional units under “outbreak watch” in addition to the three units that had been publicly linked to  COVID-19 outbreaks.

As of Friday afternoon, 35 cases, including three deaths, had been linked to two outbreaks at Foothills. Health officials announced earlier in the week that one outbreak is on two cardiac units (unit 81 and 103A, the cardiac intensive care unit) and the other is on a general medicine ward (unit 32).

However, an internal Alberta Health Services memo obtained by CBC News, dated last Sunday, reveals that another cardiac unit (unit 82) was on an “outbreak watch” and another general medicine unit (62) was also being closely monitored.

AHS confirmed Friday, in response to CBC inquiries, that a third unit — general medicine unit 36 — is also under a watch.

‘I was just told not to worry’

The news that additional units at the hospital were under “outbreak watch” has outraged a Calgary woman, who said she wasn’t told when her father was admitted earlier this week.

Carol Talarico took her 94-year-old father to the Foothills ER on Monday when he became unwell.

She was aware of the COVID-19 outbreaks so, when doctors wanted to admit him, she asked that he be placed on  a COVID-free ward.

Talarico says she was assured that was the case.

“I found out the day we took him out that there had indeed been COVID on that ward about five days previous and that 20 staff members had been furloughed because of it,” she said.

According to Talarico, a staff member told her the patient who tested positive had a slight fever and was transferred onto the COVID-19 unit and the room was cleaned.

“I was just told not to worry,” she said.

It turns out, Talarico’s father was admitted to unit 62, which was under an outbreak watch at the time.

“It’s really frustrating. I feel it’s deceitful. It’s putting people in harm’s way that don’t need to be put in harm’s way and I think people would be making different decisions if they knew … what was going on on some of these wards,” said Talarico.

‘Outbreak watch’

On Friday afternoon, in response to questions from CBC News, AHS provided the following information about the three additional units at Foothills Hospital, under watch status:

  • Unit 62: One positive case confirmed the morning of Sept 25 that is linked to the outbreak.
  • Unit 82: No positive cases confirmed to date.
  • Unit 36: Treatment for four patients with confirmed COVID-19 is currently being provided. There is no evidence linking these cases to the outbreaks.

“Units may be put on a watch as we trace the movement of positive patients or staff from outbreak units, if there is a probable case that requires more definitive investigation, or if there’s a situation with a significant COVID case exposure,” a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

The spokesperson said 12 staff members from unit 62 were in isolation as of late Thursday. In all, 136 health-care workers are now quarantined due to the outbreaks and outbreak watches at Foothills hospital.

AHS also says patients, families, staff and physicians are made aware when a unit is on outbreak or watch.

But Talarico says she wasn’t told about the situation on her father’s unit and she’s filed a formal complaint with AHS as a result.

“It’s unacceptable for anybody, especially a 94-year-old,” she said.

“I just want people to be safe.”

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