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Activists at virtual protest slam province over long-term care home ‘crisis’

Posted: March 5, 2021

(March 4, 2021)
By: Ellwood Shreve, The Sun Times

Speaking with her father is often a heartbreaking experience for Lucinda Allaer.

The 88-year-old resident of Fairfield Park in Wallaceburg will beg his daughter to get him out of the nursing home, where he’s been isolated for weeks while officials work to curb a devastating COVID-19 outbreak that’s infected more than 100 residents and staff.

“My dad cries all of the time. He talks about suicide. He asks me to help him to die,” Allaer said.

The Sarnia woman was sharing her family’s painful story as part of a virtual protest Wednesday calling for immediate action to tackle the province’s long-term care crisis.

Organized by the Ontario Health Coalition, a provincial umbrella group working to improve public health care, the livestreamed protest focused on the personal experiences of families from across Southwestern Ontario to highlight the problems plaguing the long-term care system.

“The period between the first and second wave was completely wasted,” said Tracey Ramsey, local co-chairwoman of the coalition. “The Ford government and homes put no new plans in place, nothing to protect residents, nothing to prepare workers, nothing to improve protocols.”

The lack of preparation by provincial government and administrators of long-term care homes between the first and second wave of the pandemic led to “devastation” in many Windsor area facilities, said Ramsey, former federal MP for Essex with the NDP. The result, she said, was elderly residents in Windsor’s long-term care homes suffering among the highest death and infection rates anywhere in Ontario.

“We were in a deep crisis,’ Ramsey said. “We had local MPPs and others calling for military intervention, begging the federal and provincial government for help. No help was given. There was no systemic response whatsoever.”

“This disaster didn’t need happen, but it did. I’m angry, my family is angry,” said Ian McMahon, whose father George was among the 63 residents who died of COVID-19 while in care at the Village of St. Clair in Windsor, He described the government’s lack of preparation in long-term care homes after the first wave as “cowardice” and “callous.”

“Everyone knew what was coming. The Ford government has a responsibility of duty of care for every resident in long-term care and they have failed miserably,” he said.

Ontario Health Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said the provincial government still isn’t reacting quickly enough, despite a Dec. 17, 2020, announcement promising to increase staffing in long-term care homes.

While the plan “ostensibly embraces” what the health coalition has spent years fighting for — a minimum standard of four hours of hands-on care per resident each day, Mehra said the province’s timeline — to “get to that by 2025” — isn’t fast enough. The first 15-minute increase in care, for example, isn’t even scheduled to begin until April 2022, she said.

“This is cruelly slow,” she said, adding that, because of staff attrition during the first and second waves of the pandemic, the system has already lost more than 15 minutes of hands-on care.

Ontario’s Ministry of Long-Term Care did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

With the lifespan of residents in long-term care only averaging 1.5 to two years, Mehra said many won’t be alive by the time the improvements in care promised by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government come to pass.

Pointing to the example of the Quebec government, which trained 10,000 personal support worker equivalents over a three-month span last summer, Mehra said the province could be moving much quicker to address the crisis.

“That is the difference between a government who is serious about actually improving the care levels and a government that really trying to make it look like something is happening, when it really is not happening,” Mehra said.

“COVID has shone a bright light on the desperate need for full-time and consistent staffing,” Allaer said.

Speakers at the protest spoke of the focus on profit in Ontario’s privately run long-term care homes.

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