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EDITORIAL: Ontario gets a failing grade (May 2020)

June 15th, 2020 · No Comments

Long-term care homes in the Annex, public, not-for-profit, and profit alike, have fared relatively well in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, the same cannot be said for similar facilities across the province. Before government starts pointing fingers for the tragedy that has unfolded among our most vulnerable seniors, it would do well to acknowledge its own role in the problem.

A report by the Canadian military following a stint of emergency service at long-term care homes in Ontario this May describes horrific conditions at five homes in particular. To get specific, the report said some patients were left in soiled clothing and beds, some were turned so rarely they developed bedsores. Others were left hungry and developed symptoms of dehydration. According to the report, staff were observed re-using non-sterile supplies including catheters and syringes, and homes were plagued by insect infestations. 

Prime Minister Trudeau called the findings, “deeply disturbing and heart breaking.” Premier Doug Ford, whose government is actually responsible for setting the standards of care in these facilities and ensuring those standards are maintained, called the report “gut-wrenching” and vowed to send in provincial inspectors. 

Will those inspectors make a difference? How could they possibly have failed to see what the soldiers witnessed first-hand in just a few short weeks?

These conditions help to explain why the novel coronavirus is hitting long-term care homes in Canada so hard. The International Long-Term Care Policy Network found that Canada had the highest percentage of deaths in long-term care homes compared to thirteen other countries including Germany and France. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes are responsible for 82 per cent of coronavirus-related deaths in this country.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, calls long-term care homes the  “epicentre of this epidemic,” and blames under-funding and neglect. That, in turn, led to workers being employed at multiple sites and moving frequently between them, acting as vectors for the spread of the virus. 

In addition, those employed in long-term care homes are paid much less than they would be to perform the same work in hospitals. They may not receive paid sick days, so may well have gone to work when they should have stayed home, in bed. Doug Ford took back their entitlement to paid sick days when he came to office.

On April 15, Ontario announced that, effective April 22, workers may not work at multiple homes (with the caveat that they would be exempt from this rule if they happened to be employed by a temp agency.) British Columbia, by contrast, passed legislation requiring caregivers to wear PPE and not allowing them to travel between multiple seniors’ facilities by March 27.

Why is Ontario unwilling to help this sector and deal with the systemic problems that exist? Is it that they want to keep profits up at those facilities that are privately owned?  

Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, a fellow Conservative, is the chair of the board at Canada’s largest for-profit retirement home chain, Chartwell. He also happened to be the person who removed the minimum care standard on these facilities. 

After some unfortunate freelancing in March, when he urged everyone to, “go away for March Break and enjoy yourselves,” Ford has pretty much kept to the script provided for him. At times he has even managed to muster-up some apparent empathy. However, given the military’s report card on the province’s long-term care homes, Ford would do well to abandon the bluster, take some responsibility, and step-up to fix the system.

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Tags: Annex · Editorial · Opinion