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Health Coalition seeks commission into long-term care homes

Posted: May 31, 2020

(May 30, 2020)

By: Jake Romphf, Chatham Daily News

The Ontario Health Coalition is asking the recently announced commission into long-term care homes be independent of operators and owners while calling for a public inquiry into the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent, Sarnia, Wallaceburg and Walpole Island First Nations health coalitions, said problems in long-term care homes began after Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative government expanded the privatization of the sector almost 25 years ago.

“We started to see the slip of quality care,” Roebuck said Friday.

According to the Ontario Long Term Care Home Association, 58 per cent of the province’s 626 homes are privately owned. Recent news analyses have revealed for-profit homes have experienced worse COVID-19 outbreaks while the coalition says its own research found “significantly higher” death rates in for-profit homes.

In a May 28 letter to Premier Doug Ford, the Ontario Health Coalition says Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton should revoke the licences of homes that have had uncontrolled outbreaks.

Ontario has already replaced the management of some long-term care homes where the worst outbreaks have occurred.

The coalition held a roundtable discussion in 2019 where personal care workers and local long-term care home management and owners were frustrated that larger companies that own the homes were not providing enough funding, said Roebuck.

“The message was the same – the PSWs were at the point of crying about the fact they could not give quality care to their clients,” she said.

Roebuck noted a lack of full-time jobs for PSWs. The coalition’s letter calls on the government to create full-time positions for those parttime workers before bringing in additional staff. PSWs often work in multiple care homes but the province restricted the workers to only one home earlier in the pandemic to try to prevent the spread of the virus, the coalition noted..

As long-term care homes across Ontario became “hotbeds” for COVID-19, Roebuck said the pandemic revealed the issues to the public. Roebuck said the commission ought not be run by the owners and operators of long-term care homes.

“A business’s priority is to make profit,” she said. “Those folks are not going to be open to decreasing their profit by hiring more staff and using more appropriate (personal protective equipment).” She said Ford’s demeanour on TV has been appropriate, but government and the premier were “slow to react” and are still having issues with testing, protective gear procurement and contact tracing.

“We need to get control over it because all the scientists are saying there will another wave in the fall,” said Roebuck, adding that senior governments must have the proper protective equipment and staffing in long-term care homes “so that our elderly aren’t so badly affected by this next time.”

“We have to keep everyone safe, that is a priority and that should be a priority of our government.”

The coalition urged long-term care homes to add enough staff to provide a minimum of four hours of direct care for each resident daily.

On May 19, Ontario announced it would launch an “independent” and “non-partisan” commission into Ontario’s long-term care system that would begin in September. But following the Canadian Armed Forces’report about troops observing unsanitary conditions, neglect of patients and a host of other issues in five long-term care homes, Ford said the commission will begin in July.

Roebuck said the coalition’s May 28 letter to Ford was actually drafted before the military’s report was released.

The coalition says its letter is signed by more than 100 organizations that collectively represent 1.5-million Ontarians.

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