Delay in reporting nursing home death puts trust at risk: expert

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Apr 02, 2020 by Katrina Clarke Hamilton Spectator

It took three days before Hamilton public health would confirm the second COVID-19-related death of a resident at Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek.

The Spectator had been asking about it since a day after it occurred.

That lag in revealing information — combined with initial denials to media — puts public health at risk of losing the public’s trust, say ethics and transparency experts.

On Thursday morning, Hamilton public health confirmed the city’s second COVID-19 victim was an 88-year-old female resident of Heritage Green who died Monday. The long-term care home is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak and has been at the centre of public interest for weeks, particularly as death rates climb at nursing homes elsewhere in Ontario.

The nursing home’s first death, an 80-year-old woman who died in hospital March 24, was made public hours after it occurred.

Not so with the second on Monday.

“Dr. Richardson (Hamilton’s medical officer of health) … has not been able to confirm if there is a death there or not,” said city spokesperson Kelly Anderson in an email on Tuesday afternoon. “Public health has not been notified yet.”

As late as Wednesday afternoon, the city still refused to confirm the death.

“Our official database number stands at one COVID-19 death,” read an email from spokesperson Kevin McDonald.

At a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, Richardson said a second death had occurred. She didn’t say where.

Pressed at a Thursday news conference why public health withheld information, Richardson said it was a combination of the need to follow protocol and bad timing.

“The death was reported to us the following day (Tuesday),” she said. “Within public health, we also have protocols that we have to follow in terms of ensuring that notification is made to all the parties who notification needs to be made to.”

Protocol includes notifying the long-term care home, families, the chief medical officer of health and others.

Asked why public health still wouldn’t speak to the death when The Spec asked about it Wednesday afternoon, Richardson said, “It may have been an issue of timing related to your call.”

This comes after an error in public health’s reporting of the first case.

The initial March 18 news release stated the 80-year-old Heritage Green resident was brought to St. Joseph’s Healthcare on March 16 for scheduled treatment. “During her visit she began displaying symptoms, and was moved to isolation where she remains,” the news release said.

The public later learned she was asymptotic during treatment and returned to Heritage Green. She started showing symptoms later at the nursing home, and that’s when she was brought back to the hospital.

Public health now says the release was reflective of the information they had at the time, but upon further investigation, “it became apparent that certain information details were different.”

“Once the public begins to sense that public health officials or government officials are withholding important information — or worse, lying about it … the entire public health process is brought into disrepute,” said Arthur Schafer, a professor and the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Schafer said public officials need to be upfront when mistakes are made or information needs to be withheld — and say why it’s being withheld when questions are first asked. They should err on the side of transparency.

Otherwise, the public loses trust.

“We’re asking the public to give up a lot of liberties and, so far, I think co-operation across Canada has been magnificent,” he said. “But that relies on the public trusting — not that our public health officials are infallible and won’t make mistakes, but they’ll be straight with you, tell you the truth.”

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at University of King’s College in Halifax, whose work specializes in access to information, said while he wasn’t able to speak in specifics about this case, three days “does seem like a long time.”

“With something as serious as COVID-19, transparency is essential,” he said. “Public officials can’t be seen as holding back important information.”

Vallance-Jones said that while tension always exists between the public’s right to know and protecting the privacy of individuals, when leaders are transparent and frank — especially amid the COVID crisis — it engenders the public’s trust in them.

“Look at the way Doug Ford came off today versus Justin Trudeau, on the question of releasing detailed information about models of the pandemic’s projected impact,” he said.

Richardson, meanwhile, did speak to the issue of trust on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely imperative to us that we maintain the trust of everybody in terms of the data we’re providing,” she said. “There is a bit of a process that we need to go through. Sometimes it does take a couple of days.”

Public health is always looking to improve the speed of its reporting, while still ensuring accuracy, she said.

Katrina Clarke is a Hamilton-based reporter at the Spectator. Reach her via email: katrinaclarke@thespec.com

Delay in reporting nursing home death puts trust at risk: expert

An ethicist says keeping things in the dark can shake trust in public health.

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Apr 02, 2020 by Katrina Clarke Hamilton Spectator

It took three days before Hamilton public health would confirm the second COVID-19-related death of a resident at Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek.

The Spectator had been asking about it since a day after it occurred.

That lag in revealing information — combined with initial denials to media — puts public health at risk of losing the public’s trust, say ethics and transparency experts.

On Thursday morning, Hamilton public health confirmed the city’s second COVID-19 victim was an 88-year-old female resident of Heritage Green who died Monday. The long-term care home is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak and has been at the centre of public interest for weeks, particularly as death rates climb at nursing homes elsewhere in Ontario.

Related Content

The nursing home’s first death, an 80-year-old woman who died in hospital March 24, was made public hours after it occurred.

Not so with the second on Monday.

“Dr. Richardson (Hamilton’s medical officer of health) … has not been able to confirm if there is a death there or not,” said city spokesperson Kelly Anderson in an email on Tuesday afternoon. “Public health has not been notified yet.”

As late as Wednesday afternoon, the city still refused to confirm the death.

“Our official database number stands at one COVID-19 death,” read an email from spokesperson Kevin McDonald.

At a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, Richardson said a second death had occurred. She didn’t say where.

Pressed at a Thursday news conference why public health withheld information, Richardson said it was a combination of the need to follow protocol and bad timing.

“The death was reported to us the following day (Tuesday),” she said. “Within public health, we also have protocols that we have to follow in terms of ensuring that notification is made to all the parties who notification needs to be made to.”

Protocol includes notifying the long-term care home, families, the chief medical officer of health and others.

Asked why public health still wouldn’t speak to the death when The Spec asked about it Wednesday afternoon, Richardson said, “It may have been an issue of timing related to your call.”

This comes after an error in public health’s reporting of the first case.

The initial March 18 news release stated the 80-year-old Heritage Green resident was brought to St. Joseph’s Healthcare on March 16 for scheduled treatment. “During her visit she began displaying symptoms, and was moved to isolation where she remains,” the news release said.

The public later learned she was asymptotic during treatment and returned to Heritage Green. She started showing symptoms later at the nursing home, and that’s when she was brought back to the hospital.

Public health now says the release was reflective of the information they had at the time, but upon further investigation, “it became apparent that certain information details were different.”

“Once the public begins to sense that public health officials or government officials are withholding important information — or worse, lying about it … the entire public health process is brought into disrepute,” said Arthur Schafer, a professor and the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Schafer said public officials need to be upfront when mistakes are made or information needs to be withheld — and say why it’s being withheld when questions are first asked. They should err on the side of transparency.

Otherwise, the public loses trust.

“We’re asking the public to give up a lot of liberties and, so far, I think co-operation across Canada has been magnificent,” he said. “But that relies on the public trusting — not that our public health officials are infallible and won’t make mistakes, but they’ll be straight with you, tell you the truth.”

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at University of King’s College in Halifax, whose work specializes in access to information, said while he wasn’t able to speak in specifics about this case, three days “does seem like a long time.”

“With something as serious as COVID-19, transparency is essential,” he said. “Public officials can’t be seen as holding back important information.”

Vallance-Jones said that while tension always exists between the public’s right to know and protecting the privacy of individuals, when leaders are transparent and frank — especially amid the COVID crisis — it engenders the public’s trust in them.

“Look at the way Doug Ford came off today versus Justin Trudeau, on the question of releasing detailed information about models of the pandemic’s projected impact,” he said.

Richardson, meanwhile, did speak to the issue of trust on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely imperative to us that we maintain the trust of everybody in terms of the data we’re providing,” she said. “There is a bit of a process that we need to go through. Sometimes it does take a couple of days.”

Public health is always looking to improve the speed of its reporting, while still ensuring accuracy, she said.

Katrina Clarke is a Hamilton-based reporter at the Spectator. Reach her via email: katrinaclarke@thespec.com

Delay in reporting nursing home death puts trust at risk: expert

An ethicist says keeping things in the dark can shake trust in public health.

OPEN DIGITAL ACCESS Apr 02, 2020 by Katrina Clarke Hamilton Spectator

It took three days before Hamilton public health would confirm the second COVID-19-related death of a resident at Heritage Green Nursing Home in Stoney Creek.

The Spectator had been asking about it since a day after it occurred.

That lag in revealing information — combined with initial denials to media — puts public health at risk of losing the public’s trust, say ethics and transparency experts.

On Thursday morning, Hamilton public health confirmed the city’s second COVID-19 victim was an 88-year-old female resident of Heritage Green who died Monday. The long-term care home is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak and has been at the centre of public interest for weeks, particularly as death rates climb at nursing homes elsewhere in Ontario.

Related Content

The nursing home’s first death, an 80-year-old woman who died in hospital March 24, was made public hours after it occurred.

Not so with the second on Monday.

“Dr. Richardson (Hamilton’s medical officer of health) … has not been able to confirm if there is a death there or not,” said city spokesperson Kelly Anderson in an email on Tuesday afternoon. “Public health has not been notified yet.”

As late as Wednesday afternoon, the city still refused to confirm the death.

“Our official database number stands at one COVID-19 death,” read an email from spokesperson Kevin McDonald.

At a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, Richardson said a second death had occurred. She didn’t say where.

Pressed at a Thursday news conference why public health withheld information, Richardson said it was a combination of the need to follow protocol and bad timing.

“The death was reported to us the following day (Tuesday),” she said. “Within public health, we also have protocols that we have to follow in terms of ensuring that notification is made to all the parties who notification needs to be made to.”

Protocol includes notifying the long-term care home, families, the chief medical officer of health and others.

Asked why public health still wouldn’t speak to the death when The Spec asked about it Wednesday afternoon, Richardson said, “It may have been an issue of timing related to your call.”

This comes after an error in public health’s reporting of the first case.

The initial March 18 news release stated the 80-year-old Heritage Green resident was brought to St. Joseph’s Healthcare on March 16 for scheduled treatment. “During her visit she began displaying symptoms, and was moved to isolation where she remains,” the news release said.

The public later learned she was asymptotic during treatment and returned to Heritage Green. She started showing symptoms later at the nursing home, and that’s when she was brought back to the hospital.

Public health now says the release was reflective of the information they had at the time, but upon further investigation, “it became apparent that certain information details were different.”

“Once the public begins to sense that public health officials or government officials are withholding important information — or worse, lying about it … the entire public health process is brought into disrepute,” said Arthur Schafer, a professor and the director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Schafer said public officials need to be upfront when mistakes are made or information needs to be withheld — and say why it’s being withheld when questions are first asked. They should err on the side of transparency.

Otherwise, the public loses trust.

“We’re asking the public to give up a lot of liberties and, so far, I think co-operation across Canada has been magnificent,” he said. “But that relies on the public trusting — not that our public health officials are infallible and won’t make mistakes, but they’ll be straight with you, tell you the truth.”

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at University of King’s College in Halifax, whose work specializes in access to information, said while he wasn’t able to speak in specifics about this case, three days “does seem like a long time.”

“With something as serious as COVID-19, transparency is essential,” he said. “Public officials can’t be seen as holding back important information.”

Vallance-Jones said that while tension always exists between the public’s right to know and protecting the privacy of individuals, when leaders are transparent and frank — especially amid the COVID crisis — it engenders the public’s trust in them.

“Look at the way Doug Ford came off today versus Justin Trudeau, on the question of releasing detailed information about models of the pandemic’s projected impact,” he said.

Richardson, meanwhile, did speak to the issue of trust on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely imperative to us that we maintain the trust of everybody in terms of the data we’re providing,” she said. “There is a bit of a process that we need to go through. Sometimes it does take a couple of days.”

Public health is always looking to improve the speed of its reporting, while still ensuring accuracy, she said.

Katrina Clarke is a Hamilton-based reporter at the Spectator. Reach her via email: katrinaclarke@thespec.com