LEVY: Second wave ignites ‘humanitarian crisis’ in long-term care homes
Posted: January 12, 2021
(January 11, 2021)
By: Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun
It’s been like a runaway train in Ontario long-term care homes.
Despite the numerous press conferences hosted by Premier Doug Ford and his senior ministers over the past few months promising changes to address the concerns raised by the Canadian military last May, the second wave has ripped through long-term care (LTC) facilities yet again, with all the same issues under the microscope.
It has proven to be deadlier this second time, maintains Vivian Stamatopoulos, an associate teaching prof at Ontario Tech University.
“There are more long-term care homes in outbreak now than ever before and the outbreaks are far deadlier, with 10 homes right now battling outbreaks with over 150 infected residents and staff,” she said late last week.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, calls it a “humanitarian crisis.”
Heads should have rolled long ago — particularly that of Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, who continues to downplay the seriousness of the situation in interviews and on social media.
Her press secretary Krystle Caputo told me late last week that since the pandemic began, the Ford government has invested nearly $1.4 billion dollars to ensure homes have the resources to battle the virus — including enhanced testing, improved prevention, containment procedures and minor capital improvements.
She said they’ve also taken action to address urgent staff shortages and to enable the deployment of hospital staff to problem homes.
“We have seen how quickly this virus spreads and (how) community transmission is still a threat to long-term care homes,” Caputo said.
That notwithstanding, it is clear the government has lost the plot.
According to figures provided by the province, and updated Sunday morning, there are 245 LTC homes in outbreak. That’s nearly 40% of all LTC homes in the province.
In the past four weeks alone, while I was off grieving the death of my own dad to the deadly virus, the number of cases skyrocketed by 4,509 or 130%, according to Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) figures.
In early September, there were only three active COVID cases among LTC residents and 18 among staff. As Friday, there were nearly 8,000 in total.
Tendercare in Scarborough — privately owned and managed by Extendicare — has lost 73 residents or almost one-third of its resident population in the second wave. The home has had 188 resident and staff COVID cases to date. North York General hospital finally stepped in around Christmas.
At St. George Care Community in downtown Toronto, a Sienna Senior Living home, some 97 or 140 residents tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 have died. Another 82 staff tested positive.
This past week, University Health Network was brought in to manage a situation I first heard about in early December, once again far too late.
According to a statement issued by UHN Sunday, there have been no additional positive cases in the past 24 hours and six leaders from UHN are contributing expertise and “on the ground oversight.”
Mehra says the conditions in the homes are “worse than ever.”
Homes have no front-line staff, having lost a lot of staff in the first wave. The province has “done nothing” to recruit new staff to get them in place in preparation for the second wave — and there is no care or infection control without proper staff.
“Even if we were to vaccinate everyone tomorrow, the humanitarian crisis would continue because there’s not enough staff to feed and bathe people,” she said.
Stamatopoulos agrees. She says the root cause of many of the deadliest outbreaks — including Tendercare and St. George– can be traced to “preventable error” and “staff shortages.”