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Ontario Health Coalition says iron ring around long-term care is broken

Posted: January 23, 2021

(January 22, 2021)

By: Doug Diaczuk,

THUNDER BAY – When Debbie Shubat learned her mother Amy contracted COVID-19 last November while living in Southbridge Roseview Manor, she was devastated and says she has been living in a nightmare ever since.

“Every time I hear her, the little I do hear from her, and see her, I can’t stop thinking about her. I dream about her,” Shubat said. “It has been my living nightmare for all these months.”

Shubat, along with hundreds of other family members and organizations, gathered for a virtual media conference hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition calling on the Ford government to take immediate action to address the crisis in long-term care homes across the province and stop downplaying the numbers.

“On behalf of many families, and several who have described as essential caregivers, the horror that had gone on, especially at the beginning of the outbreak, I want to say to Doug Ford and Minister Fullerton that the Iron Ring isn’t there,” Shubat said. “We are devastated.”

There are currently 257 long-term care facilities in Ontario experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19. According to the Ontario Health Coalition, the outbreaks in the second wave have far surpassed that of the first wave.

Between March and July last year, there was a total of 7,768 COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities. From September to January there have been 10,379.

“At this point, you can see the escalation week by week. There are more than 1,200 to 1,500 new cases per week and that rate is escalating,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “Our message to Premier Ford is if that doesn’t constitute an emergency, what could possibly constitute an emergency.”

The Ontario Health Coalition has criticized the Ford government for downplaying the crisis in long-term care, as well as failing to address the issues of staffing shortages across the province.

“We are calling for immediate action to recruit 10,000 to 20,000 long-term staff that are needed with intensive fast track training to get them in the homes,” Mehra said.

During the media conference, several family members of residents in long-term care homes experiencing an outbreak spoke about the devastation it is having on their loved ones.

Many residents are not receiving adequate levels of care because of staffing shortages resulting from outbreaks.

“I am speaking on behalf of other families as well,” Shubat said. “We have been talking and I am aware of the circumstances, especially at the beginning of the outbreak of staff shortages.”

Southbridge Roseview Manor declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on Nov. 17 and has since reported 74 resident cases, 40 staff cases, and 23 deaths.

Shubat said early in the outbreak, family members were told the outbreak was contained to one unit, however, there were stories of residents being able to wander through the facility and shortages of personal protective equipment.

It was also revealed a staff member was able to work two shifts at the facility after testing positive for COVID-19 in late December.

Ontario’s Ministry of Long-term Care also released a report based on inspections conducted in December that found numerous violations that likely accelerated the spread of the virus in the facility.

“Many family members have already been describing those situations especially at the beginning of the outbreak,” Shubat said.

“The home has responded and told the community all the things they have done. But my concern is this outbreak has gone on for two months now and there have been other positive staff members identified in other homes in Thunder Bay, one in another Southbridge home and one in St. Joseph’s Care Group and none of those outbreaks developed beyond a few staff members. Why did this spread and why has it gone on for so long?”

Shubat said she does not blame the staff and is pleased with everything they have been able to do. Though for many family members, staffing levels is the primary concern.

“The interests of the families, the interest of the workers, we cannot continue this way,” Mehra said. “Staffing has crumbled. We lost a lot of staff in the first wave, we have even more in the second wave because they have contracted COVID.”

Mehra used the example of what was done in Quebec following the first wave that devastated long-term care facilities in that province.

“In Quebec they launched the recruitment program at the beginning of June,” she said. “They hired 7,000 of the 10,000 by the end of August. They had 60,000 applicants. They paid $21 an hour for training. It was a three-month course. They raised the wages to be able to retain them. Within four months they were in time for the second wave.”

“There is a crisis in long-term care. It needs immediate action. We need real action now.”

The outbreak at Southbridge Roseview Manor is still ongoing, with two new cases reported on Friday.

Shubat said her mother has dementia and the lockdowns have been very hard on her and she showed signs of decline. Before the outbreak, when family members were able to visit in late August, she started to rally, but since November no family members have been able to see her.

“I fear for her condition and we are desperate to get in there. Thankfully she is getting the vaccine today and they are proceeding with that for most staff,” she said. “Every time I have a Zoom call with her, she is not verbal. One of the last things she said was to my granddaughter on Nov. 25: there’s nothing here for me.”

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