Corbella: Emergency expert says we should quarantine care homes and open society
“Governments took every emergency pandemic plan they’d ever written and threw them out the window when COVID arrived.” — Emergency management expert David Redman
Author of the article:Licia CorbellaPublishing date:Jan 15, 2021 • 1 day ago • 9 minute read
There’s not much point staffing and funding emergency agencies and plans if when an emergency strikes neither are called upon.
But that’s pretty much what’s happened in Alberta and in every other government in Canada, says an emergency management process expert.
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David Redman — a retired Lieutenant-Colonel with 27 years of experience in the Canadian Armed Forces and the former head of Alberta’s Emergency Management Agency — says while every emergency is different the planning process should always be the same.
“Governments took every emergency pandemic plan they’d ever written and threw them out the window when COVID arrived,” says Redman. “No one followed the process — even though they had plenty of time and forewarning as we had the benefit of seeing what was happening in China, Italy, Spain and France before the virus hit us in March (2020). Instead, they panicked, started flying by the seat of their pants and put the doctors in charge.”
Redman was so alarmed with Canada’s pandemic response, in April he wrote a three-page letter to Premier Jason Kenney saying, “I am genuinely concerned by the GoA response to this pandemic. It appears that we have scrapped the Pandemic Influenza support plan, started from scratch and decided to ignore all principles of Emergency Management.”
To say that Redman knows what he’s talking about is putting things mildly. He has been to war and led troops in the former Yugoslavia, he was in charge of closing down Canada’s army base in Lahr, Germany in the early 1990s. He did such a great job of closing down that small city of 18,000 troops, their families, equipment and 940 pieces of infrastructure, including the fourth longest runway in Europe, that two years later he was deployed to Croatia and Bosnia to lead the unplanned withdrawal under the orders of Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada’s United Nations troops from the area, only to be charged again to establish the staging bases to bring the Canadian brigade structure back to the area this time under NATO command.
After retiring from the military, Redman was in charge of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency when everything changed on Sept. 11, 2001. On Sept. 12, along with “26 of the smartest people in Alberta” many of them government and industry leaders from the various sectors of the Alberta economy, including healthcare and critical infrastructure such as power plant, electrical lines, rail lines, etc., Redman pulled together all that information gleaned from brainstorming sessions and designed a system to protect Alberta. He was, as a result, made head of the province’s counter-terrorism strategy.Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada at the time, toured Alberta’s command centre and was so impressed with what he saw, he invited Redman, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, to Washington, D.C. to brief both the Senate and the House committees on national security. He has been keynote speaker at conferences on emergency preparedness, including with the Conference Board of Canada and fully retired in 2013.
In his April letter to Kenney — and he has since sent similar letters to every provincial premier and the federal government receiving only automated replies — Redman says the approach to battling COVID-19 has been all wrong. It has been focused almost entirely on limiting the number of deaths and we’ve failed at that.
Instead, Alberta’s 2014 Pandemic Influenza Plan has four goals:
• Controlling the spread of influenza disease and reducing illness and death by providing access to appropriate prevention measures, care, and treatment.
• Mitigating societal disruption in Alberta through ensuring the continuity and recovery of critical services.
• Minimizing adverse economic impact.
• Supporting an efficient and effective use of resources during response and recovery.
“We’ve failed in all of those objectives clear across the country because they didn’t stick to a plan. They panicked. They were constantly surprised at the beginning with every new outbreak and every death in a long-term care home, but it was completely foreseeable.
“Pandemics happen continuously,” he points out. A pandemic — even an unknown and tricky one like COVID-19 — is not a public health emergency, Redman insists, it’s a public emergency, since all areas of society are affected: the public sector, private sector, not-for-profit sector and every citizen.
Redman says putting doctors in charge of a public emergency is the wrong approach.
He points to forest fires as an example. In Alberta, during a forest fire, like the one that burned down swathes of the city of Fort McMurray in May, 2016, the Wildfire Operations centre, was the subject matter agency, but it did not lead the provincial government’s response to the wildfire.
“Their job is to fight the fire. Their job was not to ensure that there was food and water. Their job was not to evacuate the citizens of Fort McMurray. AEMA leads the cross-government, private sector and municipal response.”
Clearly that has not happened with COVID. Most Albertans have no idea what the head of AEMA looks like, let alone his name. The names listed on its website of the executive director and managing director are both incorrect.
“We can’t keep doing this — locking down our whole society,” says Redman. “We don’t have 400 billion more dollars to tell healthy people to lock themselves in their houses and not go to work.”
Redman points out that Alberta’s 2014 Pandemic Influenza Plan should have been dusted off last January after the Chinese government finally acknowledged to the world that a new, contagious coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, had started spreading in early Dec. 2019. Then it should have been rewritten to deal with the specific challenges of COVID-19.
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“We should have immediately developed plans to protect our seniors over age 60 with co-morbidities, particularly those in long-term care homes. Our long-term care homes should have been placed into quarantine.”
Again, Redman points to Fort McMurray as an example, where many of its oilpatch workers do not live full time in that northern city. Many live not just outside of Fort Mac, but outside of the province of Alberta, working one month on followed by one month off of work.
Redman says LTC workers should have been asked to work one month on and one month off, living away from their families and being housed in accommodations set aside by the government.
Redman says, you wouldn’t need to force workers to do this, you would ask for volunteers.
“I never had a problem finding volunteers for really bad tasks in the armed forces,” explains Redman. “One of the things I was taught as a lieutenant is you never ask a soldier to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. So you say, ‘I’m going? Who’s going with me?’
“For example, every day we ran convoys that left from the coast of Croatia, drove up over the mountains and into Bosnia and if you know what the 1995 war in Bosnia looked like it was particularly ugly because it was a civil war. It was neighbour versus neighbour. And they didn’t care that you were driving a white UN truck. They’d shoot at us just for fun. So the most dangerous job we had on most days was riding those convoys and protecting those convoys.”
Redman said he would “ride shotgun” armed with a C7 rifle at least once per week and as often as every four days. “I never had a shortage of people to volunteer to ride shotgun and we rotated who those people were.”
If you think care workers would never do that, Redman points to the care home near Lyon, France where for 47 days and nights 29 members of the 50 staff at the Vilanova home, brought in mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows and locked themselves in with their 106 residents in order to keep them safe from COVID. No residents died from COVID, though some passed away from other causes, and it was reportedly a joyous time.
Providing generous compensation to care workers who would quarantine with LTC residents would ensure an appropriate number of volunteers.
That plan might have cost a couple of billion dollars, says Redman. Instead, we continually lock down the whole of society at a cost to the federal government alone of $380 billion, never mind the cost to the provinces, and of destroyed businesses, rising depression rates, increased spousal abuse, spiking overdose death rates, cancelled surgeries leading to deaths and reduced quality of life, cancelled weddings and old people dying without families by their sides. Redman is also very concerned about what these lockdowns and on-again-off-again schooling is doing to the education and socialization of Canada’s children.
“To date, in Canada, over 96 per cent of our more than 17,500 COVID deaths have been in seniors, over the age of 60, with multiple co-morbidities,” said Redman. That is over 15,440 deaths. It is likely thousands of these deaths could have been avoided, as over 80 per cent of the deaths in the first wave occurred in long term care homes.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, up until May 25, Canada had the highest death rates of residents in long-term care homes of any other OECD country.
“LTC residents accounted for 81 per cent of all reported COVID-19 deaths in Canada, compared with an average of 38 per cent in other OECD countries.” And yet, no comprehensive plan for LTC homes was established. It’s shocking.
According to the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson University, by Jan. 5, 2021, long-term care and retirement homes reported just 11 per cent of the Canadian totals of COVID-19 infections and 73 per cent of total deaths.
“The largest proportion of COVID-19 cases in Canada has been in individuals aged 20-29 years. The smallest proportion has been among people aged 70-79 years. However, most deaths from the disease have been among older Canadians — 71 per cent among people 80 years and older, and almost 97 per cent among individuals 60 years and older,” says the Library of Parliament report entitled: Long-Term Care Homes in Canada – The Impact of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, when Postmedia asked Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw whether she and the government consulted the 2014 pandemic plan, Dr. Hinshaw said that she had.
“The 2014 pandemic plan was, of course, a large part of our planning in the early days. Much of that plan is relevant to COVID, some of it is less relevant to COVID. We did not create a separate plan,” she said.
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That is obvious.
She added that she “liaised very closely” with the AEMA over the initial phases of the pandemic and we continue to liaise with them. We have an emergency operation centre in the Ministry of Health.”
Redman says the province and every other government in Canada had ample time to rewrite their pandemic plans to protect our seniors, particularly those living in LTC, none of them did. He also says that Premier Kenney should be the person relaying the government’s daily messages, not Hinshaw. She should have focused on creating surge capacity in our hospitals and passing on medical information to the public.
We all know hindsight is 20-20, but Redman was making these very points back in April.
“The only plan we’re using now is to lock down healthy people and hope that COVID isn’t brought into long-term care homes. Hope isn’t a plan,” he said.
Many more elderly people will die in Canada before they are all vaccinated and the healthcare of Canadians for generations to come will be compromised as we work to pay off our ballooning debt and deficits cause by the lockdowns. All for want of a good plan.
We must learn from this failure and never let it happen again.
Licia Corbella is a Postmedia columnist in Calgary. firstname.lastname@example.org