Staff at the B.C. Ministry of Health head office in Victoria were annoyed when a senior bureaucrat sent a coronavirus infection memo to only those on the second floor last November.
theBreaker.news was first to report on Assistant Deputy Minister Philip Twyford’s Nov. 20, 2020 memo and his followup four days later. Twyford heads the finance department, which is based on the second floor of the former B.C. Electric Building on 1515 Blanshard St. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office is in the fourth floor.
Email obtained by theBreaker.news under the freedom of information law shows that within minutes of Twyford’s original memo, workers from around the building sought more information that Twyford was unwilling to provide due to privacy.
Some of them outright complained.
“Is it possible to find out when this employee was last on-site?” wrote one of several whose name was censored by the Ministry. “I was only working on the second floor yesterday morning, so the timing makes a big difference if they were last on-site Wednesday…”
“Do they know which day the exposures occurred? It would eliminate worries for some fo us who only come in twice a week.”
“There are staff who do not work on the second floor however like myself (censored) do attend that floor to drop them off and talk to staff. Thinking maybe a message should have been sent to the building rather than just the floor. There would be no way of knowing who has been there and not.”
“In the middle of a pandemic when cases are they highest they’ve ever been , after someone in the building tested positive, in addition to the PHO (just yesterday!) announcing that businesses should postpone staff returning to in-office work…. calling the workplace safe is pretty bold. Borderline offensive, if I’m honest.”
Patti Laanstra, the Ministry’s facilities director and security officer, was one of the few names disclosed.
“The rumour mill is spinning wildly about this case,” Laanstra wrote to Twyford on Nov. 23. “One piece that came out of the rumours is that the individual was on multiple floors (2,3,7). It was only communicated to me about the 2nd floor and the common spaces/elevators, etc. Do we know if that individual DID go to 3 and 7?”
Twyford was clearly on his heels.
He thanked one staffer for “being candid with me” and told another that the infected staff member denied being in multiple parts of the building. He also said that the memo was based on a standard template, following discussion with Dr. William Lakey, the B.C. Public Service’s medical director for workplace health and safety.
Twyford finally confided in another assistant deputy minister, workforce planning and strategic initiatives head Susan Wood, on Nov. 24, at 12:48 p.m.
“I have been overwhelmed by staff responding that they felt betrayed by a lack of communication and that we were hiding something and broke trust,” Twyford admitted.
Less than two hours later, he sent a staff memo aimed at mending fences.
“The reporting of a positive case in our workplace was a new experience for us,” Twyford wrote. “There are clear protocols in place from public health and also the public service as an employer, with a need to balance transparency while protecting the identify of the individual. Since this occurrence, we have heard from staff about the impact of notifying only staff located on the second floor.
“This has been a huge learning for us. We appreciate your feedback and we will be taking a broader communication approach should this happen again.”
On April 8, when she announced a single-day record 1,293 new infections, Henry said WorkSafeBC inspectors would be empowered beginning April 12 to shut down businesses for 10 days or longer when three ore more people at a workplace test positive. The order does not apply to schools.
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