03/04/2014 05:31 EST | Updated 05/04/2014 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan NDP says urgent health region needs ignored; points to deadly CO leak

REGINA - Saskatchewan's health minister says he doesn't believe that a deadly carbon monoxide leak at a seniors home will happen again, as an inquest looks at ways to prevent similar tragedies.

Three seniors died and many others became sick when the gas leaked from a boiler at St. Mary's Villa in Humboldt in December 2010.

"I can say that I'm confident that what happened at St. Mary's will not happen again, in terms of the fact that we now have carbon monoxide detectors in all of our health facilities. We never had that before," Health Minister Dustin Duncan said Tuesday.

"It's unfortunate that it took a tragedy like this to ensure that we have things like carbon monoxide detectors installed in our health facilities, like we have in our own homes."

Duncan said the government is also working with health regions to make sure they do regular boiler inspections and maintenance.

"We're putting together a protocol for all health regions that they'll be required to use.

The issue was raised in the legislature Tuesday by NDP Leader Cam Broten, who said the government isn't addressing urgent needs in health regions.

Broten said the boiler at St. Mary's should have been fixed, but a request to have that done was ignored.

"It was reported that repairing and replacing the boiler was supposed to be done. This was not done and this led to a tragic, tragic outcome for three residents," said Broten.

"If we fast-forward to today, we know that there are urgent requests coming from health regions that are about the right staffing levels, about the right repairs, the right equipment in place. And if we don't listen to the requests from health regions, my worry is that we can have tragic outcomes repeated."

The NDP provided documents this week that it says shows the province forced health regions to scale back requests for what they need for seniors care homes.

Health regions asked for such things as lifts, bathtubs, nurse call systems and more staff after the province set up a $10-million fund last fall to deal with urgent problems at long-term care homes. The documents show health regions revised their demands, which initially totalled closer to $18 million.

Duncan has said that health regions knew the fund was limited.

Meanwhile, a public inquest is underway this week in Humboldt into what happened at St. Mary's Villa.

Staff initially thought seniors were getting sick because of a stomach virus, exhaustion due to the Christmas season or food poisoning. Even as some workers got splitting headaches and double vision, they never thought gas poisoning was a possibility.

As illness spread, a nurse called her manager to tell her about it. It was the manager's husband who overheard the conversation and first suggested it might be a gas leak.

Last July, the Saskatchewan Health Region was fined $154,000 after pleading guilty to two charges under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act. The region admitted that it failed to ensure workers were properly trained on the boiler and ventilation systems and that it failed to arrange regular inspections.