By MPP Toby Barrett
Two extensive reports are now out analyzing the tragic results of the ruthless spread of the COVID-19 virus in Ontario’s long-term care homes.
Both the government-requested Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission and the Auditor General’s Special Report exposed systemic issues that resulted from years of neglect and underfunding by the previous government. Recommendations from both reports provide guidance on how to better protect residents and staff from any outbreaks in the future.
Due to these years of neglect, the Ministry of Long-Term Care and the long-term care homes were not sufficiently positioned, prepared or equipped to respond to the pandemic.
Despite ongoing concerns raised over several years, the public sector had not addressed systemic weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For example, infection can spread rapidly in homes that still have three or four residents to a room.
One needs to look no further than Haldimand-Norfolk as an example of the 15 years of provincial/Liberal neglect. When I was first a government member 25 years ago, we saw the commencement of new-build for Grandview, Edgewater Gardens, Parkview Meadows, and Norview. Then we saw nothing locally for 15 years under Premiers McGuinty and Wynne, until the return of a Progressive Conservative government. We have, over the past three years, announced hundreds of new long-term care beds for Port Dover, Hagersville, Dunnville and Delhi.
In responding to a 2009 Auditor General report on long-term care, the government of the day responded that it “planned to renovate 35,000 beds in older homes over the next decade, making them parts of larger rooms with a maximum of two beds each.” Sadly, it never happened! Between 2009 and 2019, only 3,766 beds were renovated.
More than 10 years later, little progress was evident. The present government will be the one to fix long-term care and is well on the way to do so.
Under Section 1 of the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007, “A long-term care home is primarily the home of its residents and is to be operated so that it is a place where they may live with dignity and in security, safety and comfort and have their physical, psychological, social, spiritual and cultural needs adequately met.”
Given the longstanding nature of long-term care issues and the risks of severe outcomes, there is a need to keep decision-makers’ attention focused on what needs to change, even though vaccines have helped to significantly reduce COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths in long-term care homes.
Proactively implementing the recommendations of these two reports would better prepare the Ministry and the long-term care sector for the impact of future disease outbreaks.
The province has committed to making improvements by increasing the provincial average direct care time provided per resident per day, and has committed to increasing beds available for long-term care. Steps are also being initiated to address personal support worker training requirements and update infection prevention and control requirements at long-term care homes.
Continued attention to the implementation of these commitments and additional recommendations would go a long way toward ensuring seniors living in Ontario’s long-term care homes are accorded the well-deserved dignity, safety and comfort that is clearly envisioned in Section 1 of the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007.
We will continue to build a safe and modern long-term care sector that respects the dignity of our seniors and those who care for them.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk