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Critics say mandatory COVID-19 testing should include retirement homes as well

Posted: May 16, 2020

(May 15, 2020)

By: CBC Sudbury

Under a current provincial order, mandatory testing for COVID-19 is happening in long term care homes but not retirement homes. (CBC)

As mandatory testing of all residents and staff in long term care facilities for COVID-19 continues in Ontario, health care critics say the same rules should apply to retirement homes as well.

The province put out a directive to test all residents and staff in long term care facilities in Ontario for COVID-19, whether they have symptoms or not. The testing was scheduled to be completed by Friday.

Even the association representing retirement homes says it has asked for increased testing.

On April 25th, the Ontario Retirement Communities Association contacted the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility and requested that all retirement home residents and staff be included in expanded COVID-19 testing so expedited responses to outbreaks can help minimize further transmission risks.

France Gelinas, the Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic, says it’s problematic that the directive only covers long term care homes.

“Unfortunately, there has not been any directive given by the government about testing people in retirement homes,” she said. “Retirement homes are not the same as long term care homes. Long-term care homes are being tested. Retirement homes are not.”

According to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, a provincial government mandated regulator to oversee the homes, people who live in retirement homes need less care than those in long-term care homes.

The authority also states retirement homes do not get any government funding and residents pay their full costs for accommodation. There is also no specific criteria for living in a retirement home.

According to the province, a long term care home requires someone to need 24-hour nursing care. Personal and nursing care is covered by the province in long term care homes, but residents must pay for their own accommodation costs.

France Gelinas is the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt and her party’s health critic. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Gelinas says she thinks those in retirement homes haven’t been tested because Ontario hasn’t increased testing.

“Right now in Ontario, all of the labs put together can handle 20,000 tests a day,” she said.

“There are others who need to be tested. We’ve had outbreaks in hospitals. We’ve had outbreaks in other areas where people need to be tested. So it’s really the capacity of our testing system.”

Gelinas says the situation could change if the political will were there.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. Premier Ford could .. increase the resources,” she said.

“We have many hospitals that have lab capacity that could do testing that have not been asked.”

‘Critically important’

The executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition agrees more testing needs to be done in Ontario to address the issue.

“In terms of priorities of where the ramp up of the testing happens, it has to happen in retirement homes, in hospitals, in long term care homes and other congregate care settings where people are living,” Natalie Mehra said.

“It’s critically important that the testing be done and people be protected, both staff and residents alike,” she said.

In the Sudbury-area, all residents and staff in long-term care facilities have been swabbed for COVID-19, according to the local health unit.

Natalie Mehra is the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. (CBC)

Public Health Sudbury & Districts manager Holly Browne says the organization will rely on the province for direction on who to test.

“We have not received any direction from the Ministry of Health yet on what the process will be for swabbing within those facilities,” she said.

“Once we receive those, we will move forward with that group of testing.”

The Ministry of Health has sent a statement saying it “has not come out with direction in terms of surveillance testing of retirement homes.  However, that direction will be coming shortly following a review of the results of the Long Term Care Home testing to assess what the next steps should be.”

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