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FORUM: COVID-19 has exposed issues in long-term care homes (May 2020)

June 15th, 2020 · No Comments

We need to summon the political will to make long-term change

By Jessica Bell

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only exposing how poorly our economy and society treat our most vulnerable, it’s making it worse. 

While Canada is making positive progress at slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the community, the spread of the virus among our most vulnerable is fast becoming a national tragedy.  

“After this pandemic, there will be a reckoning on what went wrong and why,”

–Jessica Bell, University-Rosedale MPP

Over half of deaths have occured in long-term care homes – a death rate that is one the highest in the world according to the International Long Term Care Policy Network.  Disturbingly, the Ontario Health Coalition calculates the death rate in the province’s privatized homes seems to be far higher than the rate in public and non-profit homes.

In the past month, I have called many long-term care homes, refugee centres, shelters, retirement homes and assisted living facilities in my riding to ask how they were coping.  Most were facing staff shortages, and all of them hadn’t been provided with enough access to personal protective equipment to keep staff and residents safe. 

Mon Sheong Home for the Aged on D’Arcy St. is in our riding of University Rosedale, and the home has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the province. After speaking with Helen Lee, the granddaughter of 111 year-old resident Foon Hay Lum, I sent a letter to the Ministry of Health calling on them to provide help immediately. More PPE arrived, however Foon Hay died from COVID-19 less than a week later. 

Lum was a tireless advocate for Chinese-Canadians. She was an advocate who fought for reparations for the 81,000 Chinese-Canadians who were subject to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the $500 Head Tax, a policy which kept her family separated until 1959. After 20 years of activism, she secured an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006.  

Foon Hay Lum is just one of thousands of loved ones who have died from COVID-19. Mon Sheong is just one of many homes and centres plagued by sickness and death. COVID-19 continues to spread among vulnerable people including those who are old, who struggle with disabilities and mental health challenges, refugees, and people in prisons.

This is what we need now to get through the pandemic. The Ontario Government has done the right thing and increased pandemic pay by $4 an hour for most frontline workers, and banned most workers from working in multiple long-term care facility sites in order to curb the spread.  We are calling for all workers to earn $22 an hour or more, for all health care workers to get the PPE they need, more government funding for staff, a robust testing regime to limit the spread, and government takeover of facilities that are not able to maintain care for residents.

After this pandemic, there will be a reckoning over what went wrong and why. We must see real changes to how we treat and care for our vulnerable and those who serve them. 

The chronic underfunding, poor regulation and privatization of long term care must end. A new regime of fair government funding for non-profit and public long term care homes, a ban on for-profit homes, jobs that pay better and have more security and benefits, and real regulation and oversight must be ushered in. 

We didn’t need a pandemic to learn this, but a pandemic will create the political will to ensure these changes actually happen.

Jessica Bell is the MPP for University-Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion