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LEVY: LTC Commission gives life-saving advice for COVID’s second wave

Posted: October 25, 2020

(October 24, 2020)

By: Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun

Concerned the second wave of COVID-19 is underway in Ontario, the Long-Term Care Commission issued a five-page preliminary report Friday that will hopefully help to avoid mistakes that led to more than 1,800 deaths in the province’s LTC homes during the first wave.

Besides wage enhancements for PSWs and more money to hire more staff, the report urges that LTC recruitment efforts focus on providing staff who are able to handle the increasingly complex care needs of residents.

Homes must also create more full-time staff positions — instead of a roster of part-time workers — to ensure resident “continuity of care.”

The Commissioners propose that staff-to-client ratios be increased so that each resident gets at minimum four hours of direct care.

As those I’ve interviewed have reported, during the chaos of COVID, an already untenable staffing situation in many homes left residents dehydrated, unfed, malnourished, not properly toileted and with little emotional support.

My lived experience with two compromised parents during the past 10 months has taught me that PSWs do God’s work. Properly paying and training them makes all the difference between those who go through the motions (and sometimes fall asleep on the job) and those with foresight, kindness and compassion.

Having learned much about dementia, it is also so important that there not be a revolving door of caregivers for those who are compromised.

The key recommendation — in my view — pertains to something I’ve been writing about for months.

The Commissioners say families and (essential) caregivers need to have “ongoing, safe and managed access” to long-term care residents — given that they help support not just physical care needs but the “psycho-social well-being” of residents.”

This recommendation should be posted in every retirement and LTC home. I’ve written too many stories about the management of these homes putting up obstacles or abusing their power by refusing to allow an essential family caregiver in — until a resident has stopped eating or has failed in some other way from the isolation.

Often families have been afraid to fight back for fear of retribution, rightly or wrongly, against their loved one.

My own mom suffered tremendously from our inability to enter her retirement residence all summer. Her decline has been swift and she has spent the last three weeks in hospital because of a serious issue that was not noticed until it was out of control.

The Commissioners also propose — in what I would I say is a system without strong oversight or an imperative to correct wrongdoing — that local hospitals be called in now to assist with homes that are “likely to have difficulties” based on past experience.

My mind turns to Pickering’s Orchard Villa, which had the highest death rate from COVID in the province and was one of the homes where the Canadian military was sent in during April and May to assist.

It is interesting to note that a series of families who lost, or came close to losing loved ones, at Orchard Villa appeared before the Commission Friday.

The insightful report — put together after just six weeks of hearings — was welcomed by many advocates who feel the government and many of the province’s senior’s homes have learned little from the first wave.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, who’s done a hero’s job during the pandemic, said many of the measures proposed are things they’ve been advocating for in monthly reports and repeated releases.

Not one more day can be lost now, she said.

“There can be no excuse for further failure to implement these recommendations immediately,” Mehra said.

“There must be accountability for the failure to have done so in the summer months when case levels had gone down and there was a lull in the pandemic … Mr. Ford, it is beyond time to act.”

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