Covid-19 turns long-term care home into worst place to be


Northwood Manor in Halifax, (inset) a selfie from Nikki, a Continuing Care Assistant in  Northwood Manor

IT’S EASY TO LOCATE GROUND ZERO FOR COVID-19 IN NOVA SCOTIA. It’s right there, bottled up in a single building on a busy street in downtown Halifax; right there at 2615 Northwood Terrace, proud of itself, with it’s name written in jaunty lettering on a cheery red and white portico over the front entrance; right there in Northwood Manor, a home to 585 old people. It’s a killing ground.

As of May 4, Covid-19 had killed 35 residents in Northwood Manor. It had also infected 220 of the residents and 87 of the 400 workers who care for them. It’s the last place you want to be in Nova Scotia right now.  

84% of all deaths

The 35 old people killed by Covid-19 in Northwood Manor account for 84% of all the deaths from Covid-19 in Nova Scotia. Stay away from Northwood Manor and there’s almost no chance you will get the virus. Go there and there’s a good chance you will.

The whole province knows these facts. The premier doesn’t hide them in his regular briefings on the pandemic. He admits they are troubling and may be cause for an investigation, once the worst is over, maybe.

Jason MacLean says that’s not good enough. The president of the NSGEU (Nova Scotia Government Employees Union) says the premier should commit to order a formal and full public inquiry into what is happening at Northwood Manor and why.

MacLean says NSGEU members who work at Northwood were the first to report on the patchy and inadequate virus protection measures at Northwood.

Management changes nothing

Meanwhile, Northwood management changes nothing. What is expected of frontline workers in Northwood Manor is the same as it always was. The premier and their bosses may call the workers “heroes.” Yet their skills, their health, their hard work and their lives still aren’t worth a living wage, never mind hazard pay.

Northwood Manor is looking for workers to join its pandemic relief team right now. It is offering $16.33/hr to $16.67/hr. No hazard pay premium. No bump up for an increased work load. Still $3 less than a living wage.

A living wage in Halifax is $19.17per hour, according to Living Wage Canada.

Northwood is also looking for a labour relations manager. The salary offered of  $80,000 to $85,000 a year works out to about $50 per hour.

Northwood has been voted one of Atlantic Canada’s top employers and one of Nova Scotia’s top employers for 2019. Whoever did the voting clearly didn’t think paying workers what they are worth matters.

Suzanne Rent in the Halifax Examiner notes: “Being called a hero to work on the frontlines of COVID-19 for less than a living wage is like asking creative workers such as artists, writers, musicians, and photographers to work for exposure. Except in this case, the exposure workers at Northwood get is to a deadly virus. And for that, many of them are earning just enough to just get by.”

Rent suggests Northwood change it’s motto from “Live More” to “Pay More.”

Workers and residents needlessly exposed

“I’m very fearful of where this is all going,” said MacLean. “When you have nearly 40 per cent of the residents positive with COVID, I’d say that’s pretty dire.”

“If the government had acted sooner, and more pro-actively, this wouldn’t be what it is today.”

The union claims government blunders include:

  • initially preventing the distribution of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care providers at nursing homes and home-care workers who care for seniors in private homes
  • forcing respiratory therapists, and others, to work for four days before they were provided with PPE.

Northwood Manor is not alone. Dozens of other long-term care homes, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, have logged COVID-19 death tolls in the double digits. However, few, if any, are reporting as many confirmed cases as Northwood.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, confirmed that, as of late April, 79% of deaths from coronavirus could be traced back to long-term care homes.

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