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LEVY: Fix the problems before you add more LTC beds

Posted: August 13, 2020

(August 12, 2020)

By: Gord Holder, Ottawa Sun

Why do politicians repeatedly think that throwing more money at a long-time problem will fix it?

There are no shortage of examples in my political experience.

But Premier Doug Ford’s announcement Tuesday that he intends to fast-track another long-term care home with 320 beds suggests to me that the provincial government is tone deaf to the real issues in the industry and wants to appear to be doing something by splashing money around.

The latest home will be built on the grounds of the Humber River Hospital’s Finch site — complete with air-conditioning and private or semi-private rooms, we heard.

That project will join two others in Mississauga — 640 beds combined — and a third in Ajax with 320 beds.

In each case, no indication was given as to who will build or operate the homes but I’m betting those lobbyists (many formerly on Ford’s team) and officials associated with the for-profit LTC industry are licking their chops at the possibilities.

However well-meaning Ford’s plan to fix a “broken system” may be, he and his advisors are missing the point.

As COVID has shown, the LTC industry is broken and it’s not simply because there are not enough places to warehouse the elderly — or as seniors advocates have come to call them “pandemic prisons.”

I say “warehouse” because sticking 320 people in one home is the wrong way to go given how easily COVID spread through some of the larger already problematic facilities.

It’s also inhumane.

That said, I wonder whether Ford and his LTC Minister Merrilee Fullerton were listening when the Ontario Health Coalition released a scathing study three weeks ago showing that staffing levels in LTC homes are worse than ever.

The study showed that many residents are going without full baths or showers and receive virtually no one-on-one interaction or emotional support. The staffing levels are so bad, the OHC found, that many residents are receiving “rushed care.”

So if there’s not enough staff available or willing — given the impossible work conditions and low pay — to work in the homes that exist now, where will staff be found to service 1,280 new beds?

Can college programs even turn out PSWs and other staff quickly enough? How many will want to work in such a difficult job post-COVID, especially given the increased needs and dementia issues of current LTC clients?

Staffing aside, if there’s one thing COVID has shown — sadly in real time and living colour — it’s the neglect, abuse and horrific conditions in some homes and the lack of consequences for homes that are repeatedly reported by the long-term care ministry as non-compliant under the relevant legislation.

We don’t have to go any further than May’s scathing report by the Canadian military on five Ontario LTC homes to get insight into the contemptible conditions, inhumane treatment and poor infection control practiced during COVID– conditions that continue to occur four months later, according to recent inspection reports provided to the Toronto Sun.

Trouble is, inspections are done, non-compliance is documented and the ministry doesn’t follow up — or revoke licenses if conditions are truly despicable.

Indeed, the pandemic has shown how much the LTC industry calls the shots, evidenced further by the often draconian rules they’ve imposed on family visits to their loved ones after four months of isolation and their refusal to permit essential family caregivers back into facilities.

Vivian Stamatopoulos, associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University — who specializes in family caregiving — agreed that once again the province is announcing more LTC beds rather than addressing ongoing problems plaguing existing homes.

“Instead of putting out the current collective LTC house fire, our government seems to focus primarily on building future homes for hypothetical residents of tomorrow,” she said.  “Building future LTC warehouses does nothing to assure the safety and well-being of those who need our help the most right now.”

Pamela Libralesso, who has not seen her 14-year-old son in his group home for 151 days, called the announcement “disappointing” and agreed the money is being “used in the wrong way” given that the province can’t staff the homes they have now.

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