Care home outbreak in Opaskwayak Cree Nation improves after Canadian Armed Forces called in

WINNIPEG — A COVID-19 outbreak at Rod McGillivray Memorial Care Home in Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) has been stabilized after the Canadian Armed Forces were called in to help.

All 28 residents and many staff members at the care home had tested positive for the disease.

“We were able to get all of the cases under control and all of the elders, the 27 elders that are there, have fully recovered,” said OCN Onekanew Christian Sinclair. “Unfortunately, we did lose one early in the process, which is what triggered the call to the military to get them in on the ground.

“We’re very relieved, we’re very grateful and very thankful for the leadership of Minister Marc Miller (Indigenous Services) for him mobilizing the military as quick as he did through his counterpart Minister (Harjit) Sajjan (Defence) and the federal government.”

A provincial spokesperson said while the situation at the care home is improving, public health officials have not yet declared the outbreak over.

“In general, the province’s practice is to wait two incubation periods to declare an outbreak over in case the virus is still circulating in the community and to allow the most recent tests and data to be analyzed,” the spokesperson said. “The two incubation periods timeframe starts from the date of the last case.”

Sinclair said the community is remaining vigilant and noted outside of the personal care home, OCN is still dealing with cases of COVID-19 in the community.

“We did have three cases on the weekend,” said Sinclair. “We have 42 active cases right now in Opaskwayak Cree Nation. We have 125 recovered and unfortunately two deaths. One elder from the care home and one community member.”

The Department of National Defence said Monday a 12-person multi-purpose medical assistance team (MMAT) that deployed to the care home on Nov.21 has now returned to CFB Edmonton.

“The MMAT supported the personal care home with immediate medical care and support to residents, patient management assistance, general health-related support to residents, and other assistance to support the health care management within the personal care home,” DND said in an email to CTV News.

There have been calls to bring in members of the Canadian Armed Forces to fight outbreaks in southern Manitoba care homes.

While the province isn’t ruling it out, so far the approach has been to find resources from within other sectors of the health care system.

On Monday, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said additional support — including IV teams, palliative care programs, the Canadian Red Cross, and clinical leads — has been sent to care homes dealing with significant outbreaks.

“We’re not opposed to having the military come in,” said Siragusa, when asked about it at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing. “We’ve had discussions. The question would be do we have the resources within to support and we are working towards that. We are trying.

“There may be a need for the military and we’ll have to determine where that need is and when and where we deploy them.”

Siragusa noted it’s more difficult to redeploy health care workers in northern Manitoba compared to southern Manitoba because there is fewer health-care personnel available in the north.

Questions about the involvement of the armed forces come as six of 11 additional deaths due to COVID-19 announced by the province Monday are linked to personal care homes.

Some families are wondering why the armed forces haven’t already been called in.

Calista Stuttard’s 69-year-old mother Donna O’Connell, a resident at Maples personal care home, died Nov.4 after testing positive for COVID-19.

Stuttard, who now lives in Melbourne, Australia, wonders if more could’ve been done sooner to help her mom and other residents who’ve died in outbreaks at personal care homes.

“Back in Canada the first and foremost thing I thought was, why aren’t they bringing in the military?” Stuttard said in a recent interview with CTV News. “When the numbers and the increases in cases in the Maples happened, as mind-boggling as it was…it wasn’t surprising.

“I foreshadowed it. I knew it was going to happen back in Winnipeg and as soon as I saw that it was happening at a care facility, I knew it was just a matter of time before the numbers started to climb, but I had no idea that my mom would be part of that.”

Stuttard said her mom worked as a taxi driver in Winnipeg for more than 21 years and also drove for a courier service.

“She was just very strong, very independent…she was a single parent to an only child,” said Stuttard. “She held down three jobs just to try and make sure I had food on my plate.

“To see her wither away as quickly as she did…it’s hard being overseas and communicating with digital media, thank goodness, is fantastic, but it’s not the same as being there to hold her hand or giving her a hug.”

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