MLAs spar, tensions soar over COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba care homes

Tensions over the safety of residents at personal care homes grappling with COVID-19 turned into a heated debate at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday. 

During question period, the Opposition New Democrats repeatedly accused the government of letting down seniors, while the Progressive Conservatives said their critics were sowing unnecessary fear as their government confronts the outbreaks head-on.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew responded Wednesday to a CBC News report that some residents who have COVID-19 at Parkview Place — the site of the deadliest outbreak in Manitoba — were separated from others only by an end table.

“Why is this government continuing to fail seniors?” Kinew said in a war of words over the downtown Winnipeg facility, where 19 people have died and 104 residents have tested positive for the virus.

“When will they step in to take control of the Parkview Place personal care home so that no one else dies?”

No time for partisan attacks: Pallister

Premier Brian Pallister accused the NDP of trying to score cheap political points with a tragedy.

The province has maintained it is doing everything it can to contain COVID-19, while the illness spreads at numerous care homes.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen has repeated that the province’s strict protocols ensured the cornavirus that causes COVID-19 was kept out of care homes early in the pandemic, but since that’s no longer the case, it is committed to isolating residents and distributing personal protective equipment.

As of Tuesday,  the province recorded 247 positive cases — 189 residents and 58 staff — of the illness at 16 personal care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, resulting in 27 deaths. 

An outbreak of COVID-19 at the Parkview Place personal care home in Winnipeg has been linked to 19 deaths so far. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

In arguing for the province to assume management of the care home, Kinew cited a March inspection at Parkview, conducted before the pandemic hit, which found major concerns with cleanliness and infection control, including evidence of cockroaches and filthy washrooms that smelled of urine.

A surprise inspection earlier this month noted COVID-19 had spread to most of the facility’s 12 floors and efforts to place sick residents into certain areas of the home are in the works.

“The premier should commit to letting seniors know — how long should they expect to live in a building with cockroaches?” Kinew said, talking over a few PC MLAs. 

Later, NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara alleged that Friesen doesn’t understand what is happening at Parkview Place.

To make their point, Asagwara referenced instances where Friesen said there was an on-site physician at Parkview, although there wasn’t

“He claims there was cohorting at the facility, but we learned that that just means a bedside table in between residents,” they said.

Critics undermining confidence: Friesen

Friesen disputed NDP claims that there are shortages of both personal protective equipment and physicians available to help, and that sick residents weren’t being cohorted. 

“The Opposition said that the region wasn’t responding. False. The Opposition said no help had been sent. False. The Opposition said there was no communication with families. False,” Friesen said.

Kinew “went so far to undermine the chief provincial public [health] officer when he stated that everyone should be moved out of Parkview Place, which we know in Italy and France killed people,” said Friesen.

“Will the leader of the Opposition renounce his idiotic comments that would have put Manitobans and the people of Parkview Place at risk?”

The NDP leader said in a CJOB interview last week that the province should consider removing residents from Parkview.

Asagwara later asked Friesen to commit to immediate in-person inspections of every care home with COVID-19 cases.

The health minister stated there will be more inspections conducted during this global pandemic than usual, not fewer. 

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