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Mackenzie-Nicholas Calls for Public Inquiry in Long Term Care Homes

Posted: May 29, 2020

(May 28, 2020)

By: Valerie MacDonald, Cobourg Now

“An inquiry would be a better method allowing members of the public to testify”

The July start to an independent commission on conditions in Long Term Care Homes (LTC) is good, but a full public inquiry is what is needed, says the co-chair of the Northumberland Chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Northumberland County resident Linda Mackenzie-Nicholas, who was also a long-time union representative for health care workers before she retired, was concurring with an assessment released by Ontario Health Coalition executive director, Natalie Mehra.

Any long-term care commission must have unimpeachable credibility and operate in the public interest…and be under The Public Inquiries Act and fulling independent,”  Mehra stated in a media release following the release of a military report about alleged conditions its members found inside five LTC homes in the GTA.

The OHA is “also calling for a full public inquiry or commission into Ontario’s overall response to CVOID-19 at a later date (beyond LTC homes) once the pandemic has stabilized,” Mehra stated.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford called for support of the Canadian Armed Forces with the rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in LTC facilities. He described the military’s subsequent report “a wake-up call for our entire country” about the appalling conditions in LTC homes. He announced a commission would begin this summer and not wait until September. At the time of the release of the military report on LTC home conditions, Ford called it “gut-wrenching”.

The conditions alleged in the military report range from lack of basic care, food and unresponsiveness to cries for help from the patients, many confined to bed. Cockroaches and fecal contamination were also detailed in the report.

While Mackenzie-Nicholas supports the commission, she said an inquiry would be a better method allowing members of the public to testify, as well as others, and providing time for reports to be prepared.

She also expressed her frustration about how long warnings about conditions in LTC homes have been made, including rallies held at Queen’s Park.

“You know how long people have lobbied,” Mackenzie-Nicholas said. “(But) we were treated like we were ‘self interested’ and even had PSWs spoken up more “they would not have been listened to.”

The issues identified by the military report are not just in those five homes, she also said. The conditions are “widespread” and something the union, family members, volunteers and residential councils have talked about, and as a result, need to testify about at an inquiry, the former union staffer said. Even now there isn’t enough PPE available for LTC staff, and when staff get sick, there is a greater staff shortage in those LTC facilities, she said. The lack of PSWs and full-time positions predates COVID-19 she stressed.

“The whole thing is overwhelming.”

Another aspect of LTC that is “not even being talked about” is families being “locked out” of seeing their loved ones in LTC because of COVID-19. Despite the difficulties with accommodating this, it needs to be resolved, Mackenzie-Nicholas added.

The Commission is an important opportunity for needed changes to be made, she said.

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