Editorial

The important thing, the province of Manitoba’s minister of health seems inclined to suggest, is not to dwell on the past.

The important thing, the province of Manitoba’s minister of health seems inclined to suggest, is not to dwell on the past.

When asked directly — twice — on Thursday how much accountability the province bears for the shocking COVID-19 calamity that claimed the lives of 56 residents of Maples Long Term Care Home, Health Minister Heather Stefanson would only say the provincial government’s focus is on implementing the 17 recommendations included in an external review of the tragedy.

Maples care home critically understaffed as it battled Manitoba's worst outbreak

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Speaking via livestream, Dr. Lynn Stevenson said the Maples Long Term Care Home was severely short-staffed and unprepared to care for extremely ill seniors during an intense COVID-19 outbreak. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)
Speaking via livestream, Dr. Lynn Stevenson said the Maples Long Term Care Home was severely short-staffed and unprepared to care for extremely ill seniors during an intense COVID-19 outbreak. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Posted: 3:16 PM Feb. 4, 2021

Maples Long Term Care Home was severely short-staffed and unprepared to care for extremely ill seniors during an intense COVID-19 outbreak — in which 56 residents died — while appeals for help were initially unheeded, an external review has concluded. 

Lynn Stevenson, a former associate deputy minister in the B.C. Ministry of Health and registered nurse, outlined the findings of her review into Manitoba’s largest and deadliest personal care home outbreak on Thursday. 

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"I think what we need to do is move forward here," Ms. Stefanson asserted, while twice sidestepping questions about the level of responsibility the province’s policies, practices and supports related to long-term care might bear for the Maples outbreak and its consequences.

What happens in the long-term care sector in the future will be of crucial importance to the thousands of families who rely on the services provided by care-home operators. The recommendations, prepared as part of the investigative report by Lynn Stevenson, a registered nurse and former associate deputy minister in the B.C. ministry of health, provide a practical framework that should assure Manitobans that the events that led to the province’s most deadly care-home outbreak will not be repeated.

The necessary steps will offer comfort to current and future residents of the Maples facility and other care homes. They do not, however, provide the answers and accountability that are demanded and deserved by the families of those who died as a result of the Maples outbreak. And in that regard, Ms. Stefanson’s evasion of those direct questions represents an abrogation of responsibility that is lamentably in keeping with the provincial government’s track record of responses during the current global pandemic.

Minister of Health and Seniors Care Heather Stefanson</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Minister of Health and Seniors Care Heather Stefanson

As Ms. Stefanson is new to the health portfolio, she might not yet have at-the-ready answers to the myriad questions related to COVID-19’s impact on seniors’ care. But she also speaks for the government, whose record on protecting Manitoba care homes from tragedies presaged by outbreaks in Quebec and Ontario pretty much speaks for itself.

Her predecessor on the health file is remembered for having referred to pandemic-related deaths in care homes as "regrettable but... unavoidable," and for chastising physicians who criticized the province’s pandemic response by questioning their motives and insisting that "the people in charge have got this" — just days before upward-spiralling case counts forced the province to implement code-red restrictions.

In that context, and the context of scathing criticism of for-profit care-home operator Revera — which owns Maples — for COVID-19-related failures and fatalities in numerous jurisdictions across the country, perhaps a purely-forward focus is not what the health minister should be prescribing. A frank public assessment of failures and responsibility is a necessary element of the process that will also include Ms. Stefanson’s promised implementation of the report’s 17 recommendations.

A frank public assessment of failures and responsibility is a necessary element of the process that will also include Ms. Stefanson’s promised implementation of the report’s 17 recommendations.

Not surprising were the reactions of opposition-party leaders Wab Kinew ("deeply troubling") and Dougald Lamont ("shameful") to the report. Of greater concern and relevance is the fact family members of some who died in Maples’ compromised care were also quick to reject its findings.

"To have Stevenson... not hold this government responsible for that disaster... Stevenson’s report, I do not trust it," said Eddie Calisto-Tavares, whose 88-year-old father died Nov. 11, days after the horrific conditions at Maples were publicly revealed by paramedics.

For this family and so many others that suffered similar unfathomable losses, the suggestion that "what we need to do is move forward" must be particularly difficult to absorb.