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Ford’s commission won’t get to the bottom of LTC scandal

Posted: September 8, 2020

(September 7, 2020)

By: Keith Leslie, The Hamilton Spectator

It’s clear Ontario needs a public inquiry to determine why governments did nothing substantive to address a chronic shortage of long-term care workers that existed long before COVID-19 killed over 1,850 residents and staff.

We can’t depend on Premier Doug Ford’s commission of inquiry to dig into government inaction that allowed the staffing shortage to become a crisis or examine the role of private corporations that take profits out of the publicly-funded LTC sector.

Thanks to a proposed class action suit filed by residents’ families, we now know the Ontario government does not guarantee the health and safety of 78,000 LTC residents.

In its statement of defence, the province denied anyone in the class action suffered loss or damages, and if they did, it’s the operator’s responsibility. The Ministry of Long Term Care funds, licences and provides “regulatory oversight” of the homes, but says they are “independently run and operated and oversee their own staffing.”

I guess that explains why Liberal and Tory governments failed to act, despite knowing for years that LTC homes were in dire need of personal support workers. Repeated warnings from residents’ families, staff unions and health advocates fell on deaf ears.

Ontario was slow in the pandemic to restrict LTC staff to working in just one home, knowing most were part-time or on contract and had taken jobs at two or more homes to make ends meet. The delay daily pierced Ford’s promised “iron ring” of protection around Ontario’s 623 nursing homes, making it easier for COVID-19 to spread.

The staff shortage was so severe in some homes the army was called in, and as we learned, discovered a horror show of warehoused seniors, laying unattended for hours, often in soiled clothing, with filthy living conditions and cockroach infestations.

An Ontario Health Coalition survey of LTC staff in July found 95 per cent reported their nursing home was short-staffed and that residents were going without regular showers or baths.

So what do we get from our government? Photo-ops and promises to build more LTC homes, which are needed, but Ford is offering millions of dollars in new bonus incentives for developers to get shovels in the ground quickly.

But what about staffing them?

A five-month government study concluded in July that the province should “urgently address the staffing crisis in long term care.”

The crisis won’t improve if we let the private sector, which already controls nearly 60 per cent of LTC homes in Ontario, operate the new ones, taking an even bigger slice of the “market.”

Caring for our parents and grandparents who can’t look after themselves shouldn’t be left to private corporations that want only to maximize profits.

Some older non-profit and municipally-run homes may not sparkle and shine or have all the latest technology, but anecdotally at least, some families feel they provide their loved ones with more and better personal care. Researchers say it’s because the non-profits have more staff.

There’s no denying the close ties between private LTC corporations and Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, with former premiers Mike Harris, Ernie Eves and Bill Davis all taking paid appointments to their boards. Several former Ford staffers now lobby for LTC corporations.

 

There’s nothing in a Ford-appointed commission of inquiry to instil any confidence that the government and its corporate friends will truly be held to account for what happened when COVID-19 ravaged long term care in Ontario. Hopefully the courts will determine the truth.

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