Question Period: COVID-19 Pandemic Response Plan

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Parliament, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate and in a way follows the question of Senator Seidman.

As the second wave of COVID-19 continues to spike across many communities in Canada, the situation in many hospitals, like care homes, is quickly becoming dire.

In Winnipeg, for example, we’ve been warned by staff at St. Boniface Hospital that they are reaching the brink when it comes to the spread of the virus. As of yesterday, there were at least 25 patients who were infected, as well as 11 staff members. At Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital, 21 patients and 19 staff members have been affected, and the numbers are rising.

As you can imagine, the stress on all those involved must be incredible. Staff, patients, families and front-line workers are bearing the brunt of this once again, and the challenges they’re facing on personal and professional levels are immense. We know the Manitoba nursing vacancy rate is now at 15%. I hear about this every day.

While I’m aware of the provincial responsibility for the delivery of health care, I wonder if you can tell us what support the federal government is providing for these institutions under the COVID-19 response plan for this second wave?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, thank you for your question and for keeping our attention — you and others — on the incredible work that our health care workers are doing to help keep Canadians safe throughout this pandemic. Government remains committed to working collaboratively with governments at all levels to keep Canadians safe.

In particular, the $19-billion Safe Restart Agreement with the provinces and territories, which Manitoba accepted earlier this year, includes $700 million to support health care systems’ capacity; $740 million to support infection-control measures, which could include staffing issues in long-term care, home care and palliative care settings; and $500 million to support people experiencing challenges relating to mental health, substance abuse or homelessness.

I understand, senator, that Manitoba’s allocation of its share of the Safe Restart funding includes $43.58 million to support health care system capacity, and $26.88 million to support vulnerable populations such as long-term care, home care and palliative care settings.

Senator Bovey: Thank you for this, Senator Gold. It’s much appreciated knowing those numbers. I got some calls on the weekend, one in particular that I find very distressing, about a woman whose husband was in the hospital, contracted COVID while in St. Boniface Hospital, and on his ward there was but one nursing assistant for the whole of Sunday for a full ward.

My subsequent question is: Will this allow for the federal government to assist with the staffing level so that patients can be assisted and families can even find out how their loved ones are, because this woman and many others are getting no responses at all?

Senator Gold: Thank you, and how distressing that story is for all of us. So many of us have loved ones in facilities of that kind.

The federal government’s primary role in health care is to provide funds to the provinces, as we well know. In emergency situations, the federal government has mobilized units under its control, whether military or the Red Cross — perhaps not quite the same level of control — to assist in crises as in my home province of Quebec, as well as Ontario. But fundamentally, the federal government has neither the expertise nor the jurisdiction to enter into the staffing levels.

One certainly hopes that the money that is provided, that Manitoba now has available to it, will be used quickly to provide the services and the personnel that are needed.

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