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More than 600 Peel residents have died from COVID-19, most lived in LTC and retirement homes

Posted: March 6, 2021

(March 5, 2021)

By: Sabrina Gamrot, BramptonGuardian.com

Peel Region is an identified Ontario COVID-19 infection hot spot, specifically among those under the age of 35. However, the highest percentage of deaths are not in that age group.

According to Peel Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the median age of those who have died is 85, despite that age group representing about 2.5 per cent of total infections.

In its latest epidemiological report, the region reports that roughly 67 per cent of deaths have been among long-term-care (LTC) and retirement home residents.

As of March 1, 623 Peel residents have died from the virus. Of those, 410 were LTC and retirement home residents.

“The pandemic revealed to the broader public what has been happening in long-term-care homes for a while now,” said Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, a network of over 400 community organizations that advocate for publicly funded health care.

According to Mehra, some of Ontario’s LTC and retirement homes haven’t been up to code with health and safety protocols for years and when the pandemic hit, that only exacerbated the problem.

She also said there has been a lack of government direction on staffing numbers and enforcement of infection control procedures.

“What we know is that there was a critical staffing shortage before the pandemic and we lost a lot of staff in the first wave, about 30 per cent,” she said. “Everything hinges on staff, if you don’t have enough staff, you don’t have enough care. If you don’t have staff, you can’t do infection control.”

Infection control, Mehra explained, is separating residents with COVID-19 from the remainder of the population and ensuring residents don’t wander off as well as proper usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

She also said staff working in COVID-19 hot zones inside the homes should not be working in other areas.

On top of that, she said regular surprise home inspections have been halted, meaning homes and operators have yet to be held accountable for not adhering to health protocols.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care blamed conditions on pre-existing faults. In an emailed statement, the ministry said there are “systemic issues” within homes, citing “decades of neglect and underfunding by successive governments.”

“Governments of all stripes have talked about solutions but have failed to act. Between 2011 and 2018, only 611 net new beds were built, and outdated rooms in dire need of redevelopment, many built to 1972 ward-style standards, which significantly contributed to the severity and spread of COVID-19 in homes experiencing an outbreak, remained untouched,” read the statement.

The ministry said it has hired more than 8,600 personal support workers and invested billions of dollars to create “modern and safe long-term-care spaces,” and are looking to hire and train more health-care workers.

“Our government is fixing a broken system and making long-term care a better place for residents to live, and a better place for staff to work,” the ministry said.

Innis Ingram’s mother, Kathryn Robertson, was living at Mississauga’s Camilla Care Community, one of the hardest hit homes in the province, with more than 70 COVID-19-related deaths.

To protest the home’s staffing shortage, quickly rising death count and to call on the government to take control of the home, last year Ingram chained himself to a tree outside the facility and went without food for five days.

His mother died this past October from a terminal disease and not COVID-19.

Innis said he doesn’t blame the home’s staff, as they are doing their best. He believes more action was and is still needed from the provincial government.

In an email, Sienna Living, which owns Camilla Care, said they experienced “staffing pressures” during the first wave as the result of a critical shortage of health-care workers across Ontario.

They cited a report by the Ontario Long-Term Care Association that found class B and C homes (Camilla is considered class C) with four rooms and shared washrooms “experienced more than double the COVID-19 deaths than Class A homes,” as a reason for why the home had a large number of deaths.

“The delay in developing provincial infection prevention and control protocols and frequent inconsistencies in public health measures during Wave 1 also influenced the trajectory of the virus within the LTC sector,” read the statement.

Sienna said Camilla is now in a completely different position than it was a year ago, because of “the stringent infection prevention and control protocols” they have implemented across their residences plus the rollout of vaccinations.

As of March 4, there are zero active COVID-19 cases at Camilla, with only one case reported across all Sienna-owned homes.

Meanwhile, Mehra said a co-ordinated recruiting process, the resumption of surprise home inspections and the eventual fining and pulling of licences from home operators is needed.

“Virtually everywhere else in the world has done better than us from protecting long-term-care homes. It’s a blight on the conscience and reputation of our country,” she said.

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