Calls grow for public inquiry into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood

On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia government confirmed that after 28 days of no active cases of COVID-19 the outbreak at Northwood can officially be considered resolved.

But for families who lost loved ones from the outbreak, many of their concerns remain unresolved.

“To know what this virus did in other parts of the world and other parts of our country before it reached here and for them to not have been ready and for this to have happened to 53 residents I mean, why?” asked Erica Surette.

READ MORE: Families want more transparency with Northwood review

Surette lost her mother to COVID-19 on April 22, less than a month after she was moved from a private room to a shared one.

“I firmly believe if they hadn’t moved her we might have been in a different position today.”

Shared rooms are a concern being raised by other families who lost their loved ones during the outbreak at the long-term care facility.

It’s one of the things the review committee will be looking at to see if and how much of a role shared rooms may have played in the spread of the virus.

The province announced they were launching a review at the end of June. It will be conducted by two health-care professionals, one from Nova Scotia and one from British Columbia.

Recommendations are expected by mid-September, but the review is taking place under the Quality-Improvement Information Protection Act, and is not the same as the public inquiry that many had been hoping for.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Class action lawsuit filed against Northwood

“A public inquiry normally would be headed by a judge which are noted for their independence and that’s not necessarily the case with a review,” said professor emeritus of law Wayne MacKay.

“[A review] is too narrow. It’s not necessarily independent enough and most important of all is most of it is not public and that will not restore people’s confidence.”

MacKay says in a situation like this where 53 people died at a single facility, a public inquiry would be the better route for the province to take.

“A lot of people care about this and that’s why it needs to be much more public.”

Health Minister Randy Delorey has previously said they chose to do a review because it allows them to get recommendations sooner, and they hope to start implementing recommendations before a second wave.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia review of Northwood COVID-19 outbreak to be completed by September

Surette says she’s glad the province is doing something, but she questions why they chose an avenue that keeps much of the information private.

“Is this to protect the government? Could there be potentially embarrassing revelations?” she wonders.

“Was there really not enough PPE? Were they not taking proper screening measures? I mean these are hypotheticals but what will be in that review that they won’t share?”

MacKay says given the government’s past secrecy, he’s not surprised they have chosen a review. But he calls the decision disappointing.

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“It is kind of ironic that one of the reasons the government has been reluctant to do a provincial inquiry into mass shooting was they said the federal aspects would not have binding recommendations, and yet they’ve adopted a procedure for Northwood which does not have binding recommendations,” he said.

“So I think that kind of reveals that the real agenda here is to keep things as secret as possible and to control the narrative from the government’s point of view.”

Despite the ongoing review, MacKay says it’s never too late for the province to call for a public inquiry.

“Not only can they still do a public inquiry, I think they should do a public inquiry.”

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