Teamwork and cutting through political red tape were the keys to successfully overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak at a personal care home in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, says Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair.
The First Nation, about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, declared an outbreak on Oct. 21 at the Rod McGillivary Memorial Care Home, after all 28 residents and nearly half of the staff there were infected with COVID-19. One of the residents died.
A rapid response team was sent in, as were 12 members of the Canadian Armed Forces with medical training. The outbreak at the care home was declared over on Nov. 29.
“There’s a sense of relief and a high level of satisfaction knowing that we were able to combat this emergency situation, as quick as we were able to,” Sinclair told guest host Sam Samson on CBC Radio’s Up To Speed earlier this week.
“But [it couldn’t be done] without the full support of the federal government through the military and, of course, with the Northern Health authority, the rapid response team and our front-line staff and the Opaskwayak Health Authority.
“So there was a united team effort.”
The illness spread through the care home incredibly quickly, he said, and that’s when OCN looked at other jurisdictions such as Quebec and southern Manitoba, to learn from errors that may have allowed care home outbreaks there to spread.
Sinclair reached out to federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller for military aid to bolster the health team that was already in the community. On Nov. 19, a medical military crew from CFB Edmonton was deployed to Opaskwayak, said Sinclair.
Once the team was assembled, it was a matter of taking quick and decisive action “without letting any red tape or politics get in the way,” said Sinclair.
The 12 military members were brought in to aid, not lead, said Capt. Ruby Campbell, a nursing officer at CFB Edmonton who led the team in Opaskwayak.
The team helped with sanitation and infection prevention and control, but the primary focus was caring for residents of the home while staff recovered from COVID-19, Campbell said in an interview with Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.
Much of the care they provided was nursing and bedside aid, such as helping residents eat and bathe, she said, adding that the plan was to be there during peak care times.
Once staff members who had been infected were able to return to work, and it was clear they could handle the situation, the military made the decision to leave, Campbell said.
The job was different from the members’ normal tasks of working full time in hospitals, or on a military base in some capacity, she said, so it left a lasting impression.
“I haven’t really experienced something as resonating as what we had experienced within that community,” Campbell said.
“I think the team as a whole felt the same way, and we’re very proud of the work that they did with helping the residents, and working in partnership with the staff of Rod McGillivary Care Home.”
Formal review underway
As the outbreak in Opakwayak’s care home died down, COVID-19 cases are rising in other Indigenous communities, most notably Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba.
Tha community had 133 known COVID-19 cases and a test-positivity rate of 68 per cent as of Friday afternoon, according to chief Eric Redhead, who has been desperately calling for military medical aid.
There were 625 COVID-19 cases announced over the last seven days involving First Nations people in Manitoba, officials said Friday.
That brought the number of active cases among First Nations people in the province, both on and off reserve, to 1,815, according to the weekly bulletin issued by the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team.
There were 107 First Nations people being treated in hospital for the illness, including 23 in intensive care, as of Friday.
Forty-seven First Nations people in the province have died so far from COVID-19.
Sinclair said there is already a formal review underway about the outbreak at Opaskwayak’s care home. It will look at how the outbreak may have started, and how to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, he said.
The plan is to share the findings publicly, so others can learn from them, he said.