Alberta still working on application portal for E. coli outbreak compensation

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Alberta government still working on E. coli compensation web portal
WATCH: Parents looking to the Alberta government for financial compensation after an E. coli outbreak at several daycares will have to wait a little longer. Sarah Offin explains.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Searle Turton’s ministry. He is the minister of children and family services. We regret the error.

For the first time since the E. coli outbreak started in Calgary daycares more than two weeks ago, no new cases have been added to the tally.

But parents hoping to get some relief to their pocketbooks are still waiting for the province to launch a web portal for applications to receive the promised “compassionate compensation.”

In the past day, provincial authorities said there were no new lab-confirmed cases linked to the outbreak, and no new secondary infections were identified.

As of Sept. 19, 348 lab-confirmed cases have been identified as part of the outbreak, 27 of which were the result of secondary transmission.

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Chief medical officer of health Dr. Mark Joffe said the fact that Alberta Health Services is not seeing a “significant spike” in secondary cases is “cause for cautious optimism as we move to what we hope will soon be the end of this extremely serious outbreak.”

The CMOH said there are still eight children under five who aren’t yet well enough to return home from hospital, all of whom have hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a kidney- and blood-related complication. One child was discharged from hospital in the past day.

Two children still need dialysis treatments, one fewer than yesterday, Joffe said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary E. coli outbreak: Alberta NDP calls for public inquiry'
Calgary E. coli outbreak: Alberta NDP calls for public inquiry

Six daycares remain closed, Joffe said, a result of secondary transmission:

  • Active Start Country Hills – Dolphin and Starfish preschool classes
  • CanCare Childcare – Scenic Acres location­ – Busy Bees, Bumble Bees and Butterflies classrooms
  • CEFA Early Learning Calgary South ­– JK 3-1 classroom
  • Renert Junior Kindergarten – all four Junior K classrooms
  • 1st Class Childcare Shawnessy ­– “Main daycare” area is being closed
  • Calgary JCC Child Care ­– a closure order was issued for infant and toddler rooms on Sept. 15

Vik Academy was able to return to normal operations after children attending that daycare received negative E. coli tests. And children from two classrooms at MTC Daycare have been notified they can’t return to daycares until they receive negative test results.

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The central kitchen thought to be the original source of the outbreak remains closed indefinitely, Joffe said.

Still opening the portal

On Thursday, Premier Danielle Smith announced parents affected by the daycare closures would received $2,000 per child in “compassionate compensation.”

The province later clarified that was for the parents of children who attended the original 11 daycares that were closed at the start of the outbreak on Sept. 4, and that accepting those funds would not preclude parents’ ability to take legal action.

But those funds have yet to get to parents.

Minister of Children and Family Services Searle Turton said he’s working with different ministries within the Alberta government to get the application web portal up and running so families can access the funds.

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“I know there’s a lot of anxiety about when these funds will be coming out and we’re doing everything in our power to get these funds released as soon as possible,” Turton said.

Diana Batten, Opposition critic for childcare, children and family services, said she’s been hearing concerns from parents about the delay in getting payments out.

“They haven’t received the payment,” Batten told reporters. “They have no idea when it’s coming. There’s zero timelines. And telling someone it’s coming soon, well, that doesn’t really do much for their pocketbook or for their faith in this government.”

Batten said parents have characterized the $2,000 per child as a “token gesture.”

“This is what I’ve been told: it’s a token gesture from the government. And the fact that they haven’t even received it just kind of piles on to this level of disrespect parents are sharing,” the Calgary-Acadia MLA said. “They are very upset with how all of this has been handled.”

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The investigation continues

With 707 children cleared to return to daycares, Joffe said the “very thorough” investigation into the source of the outbreak continues.

“Our public health team is reviewing the food histories for more than 1150 children and 250 daycare staff. This includes both those who became ill as well as those who did not, all of whom were at the 11 affected daycare sites between Aug. 15th and 31st,” the CMOH said.

He said comparing the food histories can help narrow down the likely source of the outbreak.

“It is possible that we are never going to know the exact source of the outbreak, but we are doing our very best to narrow it down and again, that will inform future steps and future prevention,” Joffe said.

Click to play video: '6 additional Calgary daycares closed, linked to E. Coli outbreak'
6 additional Calgary daycares closed, linked to E. Coli outbreak

The CMOH also said the investigation is including all aspects of the supply chain that provided that central kitchen.

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“The investigation is including every aspect of the food preparation, the food sourcing, the transport, the delivery, preparation in the kitchens (and) in the daycares,” Joffe said.

Turton said the province has started reaching out to daycare operators across the province to find out how many have shared kitchen arrangements, as part of the policy and standards review his ministry is working on.

Batten said parents are also concerned about the timeline of an investigation and possible inquiry into what she characterized as a “systemic issue.”

“This idea that eventually we’ll find the source, or not, and that we’re waiting to kick start an investigation until we find something that may never happen – that’s really problematic,” Batten said.

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