On Monday the second wave of COVID-19 continued to rage through 100 Ontario long-term care homes with more than 700 residents afflicted.
The same day, in a move that borders on unconscionable, the Ford government rammed through legislation, Bill 218, that virtually guarantees the negligent LTC operators will never have to account for the deaths of innocent seniors who put their trust in their facilities — not in the first wave and certainly not in the second.
To date, more than 2,000 seniors have died in LTC homes due to COVID-19 and its complications.
The legislation — retroactive to March 17 — raises the burden of proof significantly for families seeking to sue for alleged negligence during the pandemic.
According to advocates, families, many of whom have already filed lawsuits, will now need to prove “gross negligence” instead of ordinary negligence — something not even defined by the court as it relates to long-term care.
Either Premier Doug Ford and Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton have very short memories or they don’t really give much of a damn about vulnerable seniors, or both.
What happened to the Ford who sent a strong message to long-term care homes on May 27 — the day after the scathing Canadian military report was released — to get their “act together”?
That same day the premier promised “accountability, justice and transparency” going forward.
He also insisted there were going to be “rigorous inspections” of LTC homes to find out who are the good operators and who are the “bad actors.”
He promised not to hesitate to “pull any licence” if the homes didn’t clean up their act.
Clearly, it was all empty rhetoric.
Now we find ourselves in the midst of a second wave and long-term care advocates say absolutely no lessons have been learned.
For example, Orchard Villa — which had 70 deaths and was investigated for pages and pages of complaints in the past few years — is managed by Extendicare. According to the Ontario website, a total of 10 Extendicare homes are currently in outbreak.
Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech university, said for months, advocates and experts have warned the Ford government that failing to utilize the summer months to safeguard the sector would lead to a “repeat of the devastation” we saw in the spring.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, told a press conference Monday morning, just hours before the legislation passed, that they are seeing LTC homes where testing is too slow, where residents are kept in the same room for days as residents with COVID-like symptoms, along with homes that provide no isolation of residents who are COVID-positive and limited access to PPE.
There are homes that are also dissuading staff from using N-95 masks even when working with COVID-positive residents, she said.
“We are seeing staffing crumble,” she said. “It’s been bad for years but this is the worst I’ve ever seen.”
She said families of residents are even calling out for the military to come in and help again — noting that there are nine homes with more than 100 seniors infected.
Mehra says there is “no systematic response” from the government that gets resources into every home to ensure they follow proper protocols and there is enough staff.
Those who don’t have COVID won’t be fed properly, or repositioned or get bathed, she said.
As she reiterated, no homes have been fined and no licences have been yanked — contrary to Ford’s tough talk in May.
Inspections of homes have been anything but rigorous since May and as I have relayed many times, there is rarely follow-up and certainly no consequences for findings of neglect or abuse.
Lawyer Gary Will of Will Davidson said instead of enforcing standards now or in the past, the government has given negligent long-term care homes “immunity from lawsuits.”
“That’s the worst thing they can do,” he said.
Stamatopoulos says with this legislation, the Ford government is sending a clear and unequivocal message to Ontarians that it is not the interests of residents they seek to protect, but those of the industry.
I agree 100%.