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Ford and Fullerton absent from virtual question period packed with LTC residents, workers and families

Posted: May 20, 2021

(May 19, 2021)

By: Megan Delaire, Toronto.com

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Dr. Merrilee Fullerton make an announcement together at the Darlington Energy Complex in 2016. Both were absent from question period on May 18, as long-term-care residents, staff and families packed the virtual gallery. – Metroland file photo

In a physically distanced twist on an old-school organizing tactic, more than 500 members of the public packed the virtual gallery during question period at Queen’s Park May 18.

The onlookers included members of the Ontario Health Coalition, residents and employees of long-term-care homes, their families and the families of people who have died in long-term care during the pandemic. They were there to pressure the provincial government to make commitments around staffing levels, inspections and accountability in long-term care. A scathing final report by Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission has criticized the provincial government for its role in failing to prevent the deaths of nearly 4,000 long-term-care residents and 11 staff members throughout the pandemic.

Absent from the packed question period were Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton.

“I think it was disrespectful,” Helen Lee said afterward of their absence. Her grandmother, Foon Hay Lum, was the 26th person to die from COVID-19 at the Mon Sheong Home for the Aged in Toronto. At 111 years old, she was one oldest women in Canada.

“It’s disrespectful to the lives of seniors, the people that died. It’s disrespectful to the families that are still grieving, and I am really afraid for all residents in long-term-care facilities, and the staff in those facilities as well,” Lee said. “Those people that are in those homes need care now, they need to see justice now, and today was hollow and completely disrespectful.”

During question period, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter and other opposition MPPs welcomed the group packing the virtual gallery and asked questions of Progressive Conservative House Leader Paul Calandra and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott on their behalf.

“I want to welcome those from the Ontario Health Coalition who are packing the gallery today,” Hunter said, before asking the provincial government to record sociodemographic data like age, sex, education and ethnicity when tracking outbreaks, so as to better tailor public health measures to the most at-risk communities.

Among the demands Horwath made of the provincial government on behalf of the Ontario Health Coalition and the NDP were:

• Moving to a minimum standard of four hours of direct care per resident per day immediately, rather than by 2024 or 2025.

• Amending Bill-218, which provides liability protection to businesses against COVID-19 exposure related lawsuits, which critics say makes it “significantly harder” for residents and families to hold long-term-care facilities accountable for COVID-19-related deaths or illnesses.

• Increasing accountability in the long-term-care system.

• Eliminating for-profit long-term care.

• Improving caregivers’ access to loved ones in long-term care.

Calandra and Elliott defended the provincial government’s record on COVID-19 in long-term care but did not make any new commitments in response to the demands made during question period.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, has hosted similar gallery-packing events in the past, and said they usually yield some form of new commitment from the government.

“What was shocking to me today was that both Doug Ford and the minister of long-term care chose to sit this out and not be there at all,” she said.

“There was no apology … No commitment to restore surprise inspections, no commitment to fast-track the staffing and care improvements, no commitment to hold any of the homes accountable.”

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