Northern First Nation care home residents facing COVID-19 outbreak flown to Winnipeg care home

Residents of a northern Manitoba First Nation personal care home facing a COVID-19 outbreak were flown to Winnipeg Thursday, officials say, to be housed in a Winnipeg care home where they can be closer to medical care.

Twenty-one of the 24 residents of Bunibonibee Cree Nation’s personal care home have left the community as of Thursday evening after testing positive for COVID-19, said Chief Richard Hart.

The majority of them were flown by charter plane to Winnipeg, Hart said, where they will stay in a separate wing of Holy Family Home. A small number of the residents had already been taken to hospitals in Thompson and Winnipeg for medical attention, he added.

“We’ve been assured that they have a separate wing that they can use for our personal care home residents, and that’s the plan,” said Hart.

In addition to the residents, six staff members traveled to Winnipeg to provide care in the new facility, Hart said. Three residents of the home will remain in the community, he said, including two who are palliative patients.

The other 21 residents all tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, he said, as well as 10 of the home’s 43 staff members.

“We had a bit of a crisis there,” Hart said.

Holy Family Home facing its own outbreak

As of Thursday afternoon, Bunibonibee Cree Nation had confirmed 146 cases of COVID-19 among its roughly 2,900 residents, Hart said. The first cases appeared in the community in early December, he said, and he’s expecting the community will have 67 recoveries by Friday morning.

As case counts climbed, staff and community leadership worried the personal care home residents would be too far from critical medical care if their conditions deteriorated, Hart said.

“This has been an unfolding thing for the past five days,” he said. “It’s moving fast.”

Holy Family Home is currently facing its own outbreak of COVID-19. In a letter to families shared Wednesday, the home said a total of 116 residents have tested positive, including 12 active cases and 19 deaths.

A total of 46 staff members have tested positive, including one as recently as Wednesday, the home said. Thirty-six of those people have recovered.

In the letter, Holy Family wrote the home is providing temporary accommodations for residents of a First Nation, although it didn’t identify Bunibonibee. The residents will be housed in a vacant floor of the facility’s B building, the letter said, isolated from the other staff and residents of the home.

Ongoing staffing will be provided by the First Nation in collaboration with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the letter says, and those staff will use separate entrances and exits to prevent increased risk.

“Caring for others is in alignment with the mission of the home and during these very challenging times, providing support to those in need of assistance is more important than ever.”

Overwhelming community support: chief

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said Thursday officials believe the move is the best and safest option for the residents.

There should be no interactions between Holy Family Home staff and residents and those from the northern First Nation, she said, and measures including environmental cleaning, sanitization and personal protective equipment will be in place.

“The residents [of the First Nation] are very remote,” she said. “We want to make sure that if they do need acute care services, that we can provide that access in a timely way, not dependent on weather or medevacs, but it’s a planned, organized approach to support them.”

On Thursday, Hart praised the quick response of community and federal leadership in preparing and acting on the move, including regional Health Canada staff and officials with Indigenous Services Canada.

“It comes through working together with … anybody that can help in terms of providing support to the community,” he said. “Right from the start we’ve got tremendous support.”

Community in Bunibonibee have also come together to fight the coronavirus, he said.

“The community support has been very overwhelming. It’s overwhelmingly positive.… We can see that we’re really turning the corner,” he said.

“We still have a lot of worry about our elders, but we hope that everybody will be returning home soon.”