NSGEU president says he’s not taking part in Northwood review, calls for public inquiry

NSGEU president Jason MacLean says he will not take part in the Northwood review due to the “secretive nature” of the process.

The review process looking into the coronavirus outbreak at Northwood, announced on June 30, restricts anyone who appears before the committee from sharing that same information publicly, and threatens them with fines and prison time, MacLean said in a statement Thursday.

NSGEU said in the statement that MacLean was invited to speak with members of the review committee about union members’ experiences working at the long-term care home during the first wave of COVID-19.

Read more: Families call for transparent review of coronavirus outbreak at Northwood that left 53 dead

The NSGEU said that hours before the meeting, it received an email from a committee staff person stating that “any quality improvement information, is protected from disclosure under the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act.”

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This means that any information provided to the committee cannot be made public, not even through the province’s Freedom of Information Act.

The union also noted that a person releasing information is subject to a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to six months in prison.

Calls for public inquiry into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood grow
Calls for public inquiry into COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood grow

“I thought that was very unfair, that it was secretive in the first place. And then everybody that does speak to the committee is now held to secrecy as well,” MacLean told Global News on Thursday.

So my question was, are they really trying to improve the system already trying to just hold onto things that that they feel people should know and they feel people should not know? So that’s why we’ve always asked for open, fair, honest and transparent public inquiry. And that’s not what we’re getting here.”

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MacLean said the intent of the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act act was to protect whistleblowers, but believes it’s being used for “more of a cover-up” in this instance.

Read more: Nova Scotia review of Northwood COVID-19 outbreak to be completed by September

“Let’s have it all be open and do a public inquiry. It’s not about people getting sued. It’s about improving the long-term care system,” he said.

MacLean said that if the long-term care system requires more funding and more action, there will need to be an open process to get the public on board.

“You cannot just take things from behind closed doors and say this is how we’re gonna act and not bring people along with it.”

How families remember: Evelina Upshaw, lost to COVID-19
How families remember: Evelina Upshaw, lost to COVID-19

After MacLean made the decision to decline to speak with the committee, the NSGEU said the details he was prepared to provide to the committee are being compiled into a detailed report, which they plan to release publicly next week, along with an 800-plus page Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP) document.

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“The report and FOIPOP document outline not just the events at Northwood in April of this year, but also provides a context into government’s decisions leading up to the spread of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia,” NSGEU said.

Read more: Northwood seeks private rooms after COVID tragedy, but will N.S. fund the fix?

MacLean said the union will continue to advocate for their members and “stand strong” beside the family members of the 53 people who died at Northwood due to COVID-19.

“We will continue to advocate for an open and transparent public inquiry,” he said.

“I’m hoping to show the family members that we’re allies because I know that they’ve been wanting to have a public inquiry, but I think Nova Scotians need to speak out. Nova Scotia needs to say that there’s an inquiry that needs to happen.”

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