The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner / Tim Bousquet

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Northwood is in the process of creating more private rooms to try to prevent the death toll from climbing further. Thirty-five residents have died from COVID-19 and Northwood CEO Janet Simm acknowledged during a news briefing this afternoon that grim number may go higher, given the 152 active cases among residents and 51 active cases among staff.

Simm said the fact the Northwood complex is so large (485 beds) and has a large number of shared rooms has made it very challenging to slow the virus from spreading rapidly once workers who had no symptoms unknowingly brought it into the buildings five to six weeks ago.

Initially, after the first cases were reported around April 7, Northwood kept roommates together in the same room where one person tested positive and the other was still negative. Northwood executive director Josie Ryan explained that because the virus has a long, 14-day incubation period, the roommate who tested negative would already have been exposed and it “was probably only a matter of time” before the second person showed symptoms of the virus. Moving an infected person out and moving an uninfected person in could increase the spread from one person to three, and there were no empty beds to allow residents to self-isolate, anyway.

Understandably, as the death toll mounted, family members of residents began contacting journalists saying they wanted clarification from Northwood about which buildings on the Halifax campus had COVID-19 cases.

Northwood Centre has 297 beds for frail elderly residents who require nursing care. Northwood Manor is an adjoining building with one wing reserved for Northwood residents who require assistance with daily living. A second and separate wing houses Northwood tenants who are independent and free to leave the Manor by the front door on Gottingen Street.

There have been cases of COVID-19 in the Manor but Northwood executive director Josie Ryan confirmed at today’s briefing “it’s mainly in Northwood Centre, with approximately 80%” of the 226 total positive cases that have emerged.

The Centre provides care for frail elderly residents, mostly in double rooms. It has capacity for 297 beds so the virus must have raced through like wildfire. By contrast, Ryan said most floors of the Manor — including floors 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 9 where residents have their own apartments — did not  report a single positive case and today there are currently no active cases. The 11th floor of the Manor was set up as a COVID-19 unit prior to the outbreak on April 7.

A frequent visitor to the Manor, where she drops off groceries in the lobby for an elderly resident in an Assisted Living apartment, told the Examiner tenants are often coughing and do not always wear masks. She has concerns about infection control, especially in the area of the airlock door. Northwood CEO Janet Simm said she is unaware of any tenant who has tested positive. Unlike residents in the adjoining wing or in Northwood Centre who are being tested regularly whether they have symptoms or not, it is the responsibility of the tenant to call 811 if they want to be tested.

Change is underway to create more private rooms at Northwood Centre, which will mean fewer beds and hopefully improved infection control. Space has been freed up as 70 recovered Northwood residents were shifted to a Dartmouth hotel. Rooms have also become vacant due to deaths and to residents being moved out of the facility by family members, although Northwood cannot provide an estimate. Simm said “a small number” of shared rooms are being retained for couples and for roommates who have chosen to stay together.

Simm was careful not to blame the province, which is facing criticism for not providing enough beds or the proper kind of housing for seniors, for the toll COVID-19 has taken on both Northwood residents and staff during this pandemic. “We will learn from this and do better,” she told reporters, adding there are no changes to nursing home regulations which could have prevented these deaths.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. It is irritating that the police have no details on the police impersonator. After everything we have been through to continue with that old “move along nothing to see here” dismissive attitude is not anywhere close to acceptable. They need to explain what this situation was, if he was working on their behalf but most importantly why no action was taken.