Dozens dead, hundreds infected, but health authorities fight to conceal B.C. hospital outbreak findings
A CTV News investigation into COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals in the Lower Mainland has resulted in scant information from health authorities, which have fought disclosure even though hundreds of patients and staff have contracted the virus in hospital and dozens have died as a result.
For months, multiple attempts to obtain information and documentation around investigations, responses and fallout from COVID-19 outbreaks in Lower Mainland hospitals have been met with stonewalling, redactions and insistence that no such documentation exists, even though lives were lost.
Fraser Health fought a months-long battle with a freedom of information request, ultimately resulting in 79 pages of written documentation, of which 55 pages’ worth were redacted. Every page is marked “Confidential,” and some say “Confidential Do Not Distribute.”
Meanwhile, a Vancouver Coastal Health privacy officer insisted that – despite the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks taking place in that health authority – there was “no documentation” to provide under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. A public health officer for VCH pointed out the BCCDC does not require them to produce a report.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner may ultimately decide on whether a semantic decision about what constitutes a “report” should’ve been produced under the Information and Privacy Act, which compels public bodies to produce information. The possibility that there is no paperwork would raise other issues around documenting viral transmission and mitigation efforts in lethal outbreaks during a pandemic.
Fraser Health cited three sections of the act in redacting the large swathes of information: s. 22, pertaining to personal information of staff and patients, but also s. 13, “information that would reveal advice or recommendations developed by or for a public body or a minister,” and s. 17, “disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body.”
RECURRING PROBLEMS IN EARLY OUTBREAKS
CTV News filed a freedom of information request after a Fraser Health communications staffer directed us to obtain the information that way, while Vancouver Coastal Health’s communications department never provided the information, despite several requests.
In the few pages that contain information, Fraser Health’s outbreak reports describe common issues in outbreaks at Abbotsford Regional, Burnaby, Delta and Surrey Memorial hospitals. Among these issues were patients who were unknowingly COVID-positive moved between units, staff who didn’t distance or wear masks outside of patient treatment areas, issues with clutter and hygiene, questionable adherence to personal protective equipment rules and staff who were working while infectious.
“Whether all (health-care worker) cases were infected on (the) outbreak units or elsewhere in the site and in what direction transmission occurred (patient-to-staff, staff-to-patient, staff-to-staff) cannot be determined,” say most of the reports, with most adding: “Transmission may have occurred through direct contact between cases or through contact with a contaminated environment.”
While the outbreak report writers encouraged a low threshold for testing staff and patients, infection control specialists who investigated the documented outbreaks did not proactively test everyone in the hospital and instead screened for symptoms; spot-testing random people.
The outbreak at Delta Hospital was particularly noteworthy because the unnamed unit where the infections took place “experienced a high bioburden of SARS-CoV-2 during the outbreak.”
“Air flow measurements found the actual air changes per hour (ACH) to be below the design expectations,” the report reads. “International experience with COVID-19 and observations of super-spreading events in various settings suggest crowding and poor air flow may contribute to outbreaks.”
This week, CTV News asked to speak with senior health officials at both health authorities to find out how investigations were conducted, what measures were taken in the first 24 hours, what recommendations were made and if they were implemented. Neither health authority gave an interview, nor a written statement.
SWIFT DENUNCIATION OF GOVERNMENT SECRECY
The executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association was taken aback by the stonewalling from health authorities.
“There shouldn't be anything that they're afraid of disclosing to the public here,” said Jason Woywada. “One of the primary elements in a health-care system is providing assurance to the patient that they're going to be treated appropriately – and that means someone knows before they go to an ER or a hospital that they aren't going to get sicker by going there – that they're not going to go in with a broken arm and out with COVID-19.”
He said the public needs to know that efforts are being made to quash the spread of the virus.
“Making sure that communication is undertaken and there's transparency in terms of what changes have taken place is really important and that is something we'd hope we would see," said Woywada.
The official opposition echoed those sentiments and added that the public could be reluctant to seek medical attention if government isn’t clear about what lessons are being learned to keep people safe from getting COVID-19 in hospital.
"I think it's incumbent on health authorities to provide us with information and data that actually backs up their protocol, their procedures they have in place,” said Liberal leader Shirley Bond. “It is a pattern that has developed with this government: We continue to see a reluctance to be transparent. It's disappointing and frankly it should've been fixed long ago."
MULTIPLE ACUTE CARE OUTBREAKS ANNOUNCED
The two health authorities have declared dozens of outbreaks at hospitals, where staff or patients who’d been virus-free contracted COVID-19. Virtually every hospital in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley has had at least one outbreak, with hundreds infected and dozens dead.
Among the worst:
- Burnaby General Hospital: a dozen people died and more than 100 were infected at the facility last year
- Lions Gate Hospital: three outbreaks, with 52 people infected and at least 16 dead in the last two
- Surrey Memorial Hospital: a three-month-long outbreak starting Nov. 18 saw 125 people infected on site, 13 of whom died
On their websites, the health authorities only list ongoing or recent outbreaks, removing old ones after they’ve ended. Currently, Fraser Health has one at Mission Memorial Hospital, which has had at least one previous outbreak.
Woywada is urging the government to be proactive with information on something as vital as our hospital system, which he maintains is in government’s best interests.
“Trying to hide behind redacted documents and all these other elements and not getting the information out there as quickly as possible can erode trust in public institutions,” he said. “That's ultimately why we're advocating for more transparency. I would hope they would re-examine that."
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Canada has enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines to offer booster doses to all who are eligible, though so far just 35 per cent of Canadians have received their third shot, according to the federal health minister.
CTVNews.ca created five charts using data from Statistics Canada and interviewed economists to help explain why inflation in Canada remains so high, amid the continuing effects of the pandemic on the global supply chain.
A recent increase in the number of small-for-gestational-age births—an important indicator of infant health—has been observed in Canada. While the reasons for this increase are unclear, a University of British Columbia report hypothesizes that systemic issues such as immigration, economic stress and increasing maternal age may play a role.
An infectious diseases specialist says the COVID-19 pandemic could begin pivoting to an endemic status in higher-income countries by early spring, based on how Omicron is spreading and affecting hospitalization rates.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is once again condemning mounting aggression from Russia against Ukraine, indicating that Canada fears the situation could dissolve into armed conflict.
A Canadian study suggests the antiviral medication remdesivir could have a 'modest but significant effect' on COVID-19 patient outcomes, including decreasing the need for mechanical ventilation by approximately 50 per cent.
Not only is Earth in the middle of its next mass extinction event, but it may be too late to undo the harm inflicted upon the planet’s species, one study suggests.
Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard will remain behind bars in Toronto as he awaits trial on sexual assault charges after an Ontario court rejected his bid to be released on bail.
Study suggests 'nocebo effect,' not jabs, could be behind two-thirds of mild COVID-19 vaccine reactions
A new study involving a systematic review of COVID-19 vaccine trials suggests that the negative version of the placebo effect may be behind mild COVID-19 vaccine side-effects like headache and fatigue, and not the vaccines themselves.
Zachary Armitage and James Lee Busch are both charged with the first-degree murder of Martin Payne, a 60-year-old Metchosin, B.C., man who was found dead in his home near the prison in July 2019.
Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public's help in locating a missing senior who reportedly phoned 911 multiple times but did not make contact over the phone.
Residents in the Ucluelet First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island have been warned not to use their household water for anything besides flushing toilets after a barge damaged an underwater water main that serves the community.
A Calgary family of six is recovering after being terrorized during an armed home invasion that targeted the wrong residence.
A woman is in hospital with injuries she sustained during a dog attack, EMS confirmed to CTV News on Wednesday.
ATB deputy chief economist Rob Roach says he expects prices to keep climbing into, at least, much later this year.
A business in Beaumont is pairing teenagers looking for work with homeowners who need help shovelling their driveway.
In an update Tuesday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said the surging number of cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant are starting to be reflected in hospital admissions.
A man from Edmonton is dead following a crash Friday on Highway 2.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says 'restaurants, gyms and other folks' forced to shutdown because of surging COVID-19 infections should expect a positive announcement from the province later this week.
In one week, Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions could lift, but many businesses say they are grappling with a lack of clarity and direction from the provincial government on whether they should be preparing to reopen.
York Regional police are searching for a man who they say stole an $8,000 guitar from a music store north of Toronto last month by hiding it down his pants.
Some public health experts are questioning Quebec’s official advice that double-vaccinated people who have just recovered from COVID-19 to get a third dose of the vaccine 'as soon as possible.'
Quebec authorities' observation Tuesday that the pace of hospitalizations is slowing is borne out by Wednesday's numbers, with a net increase of only eight hospitalizations, and a slight decrease in ICU cases. Deaths, however, remain very high.
The Quebec government faces a choice: keep private CHSLDs private, or better support them. That was the message from the Herron home's lawyer on Wednesday to the coroner investigating first-wave deaths in CHSLDs.
NEW | Manitoba surgical backlog plan to include agreement to send patients to Fargo, hire more anesthesia clinical assistants over three years
Manitoba's health minister has released details on how the province is going to deal with the growing diagnostic and surgical backlog, which includes a plan that could see some patients sent to Fargo, North Dakota.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to increase in Manitoba, as public health reports another 12 COVID-19 deaths.
A decision whether to lay charges following a decade-long investigation into a residential school in Manitoba is expected in the coming weeks.
Saskatchewan's top doctor says a negative rapid COVID-19 test result does not mean it's time to head back to work or school if you're experiencing mild, cold-like symptoms.
A patch some officers have been spotted wearing is prompting some soul searching at Saskatoon Police Service.
As the SPCA steps away from its role in investigating cases of animal abuse and neglect, it isn't clear who will take its place.
Saskatchewan added 1,223 more cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, pushing the active case count up to 11,894.
The sexual assault trial of a former Regina doctor continued on Wednesday when an expert witness took the stand to speak on the proper procedural and examination practices of a gastroenterologist.
A COVID-19 report presented at Regina city council Wednesday, shows the city spent $83,200 from October to mid-November.
Nova Scotia health officials reported three new deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The New Brunswick government issued an urgent call for volunteers Tuesday and, in less than 24 hours, more than 1,600 residents responded to the plea for help with the province's pandemic response.
The Truro Police Service has arrested a 22-year-old man from Pictou Landing First Nation in connection to the homicide of Prabhjot Singh Katri in September 2021.
The region has received nice break from the cold temperatures Wednesday afternoon as high temperatures climbed a few degrees above the freezing mark.
The London Health Sciences Centre is reporting a small drop in the number of inpatients with COVID-19.
An outbreak of COVID-19 at Stratford General Hospital has been declared over, according to a release from the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance.
A 34-year-old North Bay resident is facing several charges following a mini-crime spree this week involving arson, assault, theft and break and enter at two residences.
The OLG has announced how the winning $22-million Lotto Max ticket for Tuesday's jackpot was purchased.
A crash involving a snow plow truck and passenger vehicle northern Ontario has killed a man from Bruce Mines, police say.
The Region of Waterloo reported four new deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Ontario health officials reported that 60 more people have died due to COVID-19 as the province logged an increase in the number of people with the disease in intensive care.
Environment Canada has issued a weather statement for Waterloo-Wellington and most of Southern Ontario, warning residents they might be in for a slippery evening commute home.