Toronto doctors slam Manitoba’s health minister for saying care home deaths are unavoidable

Manitoba’s Minister of Health was publicly denounced by two specialists in geriatric medicine over Twitter this week for saying deaths in care homes are “unavoidable.”

“There is no jurisdiction in Canada in which there have not been deaths in personal care homes. It is tragic, it is regrettable but it is unavoidable,” Cameron Friesen told CBC News, in a live interview on Up to Speed Thursday.

Dr. Nathan Stall, who specializes in geriatrics and internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, disputes Friesen’s claim. 

He called the notion that deaths are unavoidable ageist and urged Friesen to reconsider.

“Outbreaks like the one in Winnipeg’s Parkview Place are avoidable tragedies,” Stall tweeted at Friesen.

Cites stats in Singapore, Hong Kong

Stall points out that Singapore, a country of 6.2 million people, has three care home deaths as of October and Hong Kong, with more than seven million people, has 30. He corrected his original tweet in which he asserted both of those jurisdictions had no cases based on earlier studies. 

On Tuesday, Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai tweeted deaths are “Tragic yes, unavoidable, definitely not.”

Sinha points out that many Manitoba care homes have zero cases and deaths, which he says is proof infection and death can be prevented.

Eighteen homes have dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak out of a total of 125 in the province, according to Manitoba Health.   

Parkview Place, the epicentre of Manitoba’s deadliest care home outbreak, reported 94 residents and staff have been infected as of Friday and the province announced the home’s 10th death on Monday afternoon. 

“If there is a way to avoid COVID-19 deaths in care homes. I’m saying to you carefully that no jurisdiction has found it yet,” said Friesen in the Up to Speed interview on Thursday.

His ministry is in charge of ensuring the provision of safe and quality personal care home services through licensing and monitoring.

Sinha, the architect behind Ontario’s Seniors Strategy, says there are many things that can be done to prevent COVID-19 from getting into homes and “spreading like wildfire.”

Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, Canada’s national seniors’ advocacy group tweeted her dismay on Tuesday evening.

“These deaths are absolutely avoidable. Change is needed now,” wrote Tamblyn Watts, who also teaches a course in law and aging at the University of Toronto 

#AGEISMkills+ justifies inaction to prevent more deaths,” tweeted Sinha on Monday.

Friesen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If you have a tip about personal care homes, click here to contact Jill Coubrough.