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COVID-19 outbreaks at N.S. facilities for people with disabilities not made public

HALIFAX — Citing the privacy of residents, the government of Nova Scotia did not disclose a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities, to the dismay of disability rights advocates.
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HALIFAX — Citing the privacy of residents, the government of Nova Scotia did not disclose a recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a large facility housing people with intellectual disabilities, to the dismay of disability rights advocates.

Documents from the facility obtained by The Canadian Press reveal that in the days after Christmas, two workers at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S., and one resident had contracted COVID-19.

The centre, which is home to 159 residents, declined all comment, referring the matter to public health.

Unlike for nursing homes, the province won't disclose details about outbreaks at the publicly funded, non-profit centres, Health Minister Michelle Thompson told reporters Thursday after a cabinet meeting. She cited the privacy of the people who live there and said that family members of those who test positive, and others who are "directly impacted" by the outbreaks, are kept informed.

"I know that Kings is a large facility, but the facilities … are various sizes and some are quite small and some quite large and we have to be mindful to respect the privacy because many of the homes are small," she said.

The minister also said, "We want to be sure that residents who are not directly impacted are able to move in and out of the community without any risk of being stigmatized."

However, Leta Jarvis, who has a brother at the facility, says close family of residents, as well as the public, should be informed to help raise awareness of the risks to people living in institutional care.

"I’m the next of kin to my brother and I care about what is going on with him, and I don’t think he’s getting the right kind of care," she said in a recent interview.

“Why should they keep it to themselves and not report it? I think people have a right to know."

Cyndi Carruthers, director of disability advocacy group People First Nova Scotia, said in a recent interview that groups such as hers need to be informed so they can better campaign for oversight and resources for people living in those facilities.

"Disclosure would give families and advocates knowledge so we can speak out and draw attention to this and try to make the facility safer for people who live there and are vulnerable," she said.

"I don't know why these facilities are treated differently than other publicly funded care homes." 

Carruthers and other advocates have long said the larger centres should be closed and residents moved to smaller group homes in the community, arguing they would be safer and happier in these environments.

The province has acknowledged that it plans to gradually close the large facilities but says it needs time to increase the number of community-based homes.

The government is currently seeking leave to appeal a recent finding by the Appeal Court of Nova Scotia, which stated the province has systemically discriminated against people with disabilities in its failure to provide community-based housing in a timely fashion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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