VANCOUVER -- Health Minister Adrian Dix is trying to downplay a report into COVID-19 and care homes his government quietly commissioned over the summer, as well as the secrecy surrounding the report, which hasn’t been made public nor provided to stakeholders.

CTV News Vancouver was first to report the hiring of professional services company Ernst and Young to write the report, which the Ministry of Health says it has received. The review was never publicly announced, and as of Thursday, even stakeholder participants hadn’t received the copies they were promised. 

“It was public in the sense (that) more than 40 groups were consulted as to the kind of services that were provided, and it was intended to inform the health services division of the Ministry of Health,” said Dix in response to several questions about the work and the document. “It did so and its recommendations were accepted and it’ll be released on Monday.”

“It started in summer of 2020,” he added. “It’s not a review of care homes, it’s a review of services provided by the health services division – people dealing with care homes and the Ministry of Health – how we could learn from the first phase of COVID-19 to deal with the second phase … It’s focussed on the Ministry of Health and how it can provide better services.”

CTV News asked Dix why the stakeholders hadn’t received the document yet, when they believed they would have seen it by now. He did not answer.

The Ministry of Health had taken several days to respond to questions about the report. The ministry eventually confirmed the report’s existence and that officials had received it, but would not say when that happened – raising questions from critics and the opposition BC Liberals as to whether the government had suppressed the findings until after the snap election called by the premier for Oct. 24, 2020.

“We have a significant number of questions around when was the report received, will the full report in its entirety be released, and if the government has no concerns about what's in that report, why hasn't it been released by now?” said interim Liberal leader, Shirley Bond.

Dix was vague about the timing, but claimed it was fully completed in late October or early November.

A source familiar with government processes pointed out ministries will sometimes commission reports from outside advisory companies not as a matter of independent review, but simply because governments can lack the staffing and resources to do that kind of work on their own. Interactions with Ministry of Health staff suggest they are overwhelmed with media and public requests and are working long hours to manage the many aspects of the pandemic.

“With respect to care homes and care home outbreaks, it should be said our health authorities regularly go to every single outbreak in order to address issues of infection control and, in fact, those are not issues Ernst and Young would be dealing with, so this is a report designed to improve the services of the Ministry of Health,” said Dix. “You’ll see it – overwhelmingly, I should say – is favourable to the performance of the government in its first phase. It is not a review of care homes or how for-profit care homes or non-profit care homes do or anything like that. It’s a review of how we can deliver better services to the care home sector, its recommendations have been implemented by the staff who were affected by it, the seniors’ services. (It) reached out and talked to a lot of people to see how we could do a better job and you’ll see every detail of it on Monday and draw your own conclusions.”