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Ontario is failing long-term care residents on COVID and care, protesters say

Posted: October 9, 2020

(October 8, 2020)

By: Len Gillis,

Despite some pay raises and promises that things are getting better in long-term care (LTC) homes, there is still a concern the Ontario Government is not doing anywhere near enough to solve the issues of staffing shortages and providing enough hands-on care for patients and it become especially critical because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was evident Thursday morning when protest rallies were held in Sudbury, in Toronto and in more than a dozen other cities across Ontario in an effort to keep the LTC issues on the front burner and keep the pressure on Premier Doug Ford’s Conservative government.

The provincewide protest was organized by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), a lobby group with strong union ties that supports full public funding for all and every type of health care in Ontario.

Although the protest was originally planned as an automobile event because of COVID-19 restrictions, it ended up with a couple of dozen sign-carrying protesters on the front lawn of Sudbury’s Pioneer Manor, a municipally subsidized long-term care home.

OHC representative Dot Klein of Sudbury said she was pleased at the turnout, which included a couple of protesters from North Bay.

“The purpose of this is to tell Doug Ford and the Ontario government that we want long-term care now, not after the second wave, the third wave or the fourth wave, but now.

“Our loved ones who live in long-term care are dying,” said Klein, adding that more than 1,900 long-term care residents and staff members in Ontario LTC homes died in the first wave of the pandemic.

“That is unacceptable,” said Klein.

She said now that Ontario is in the second wave, there are new outbreaks of COVID-19 happening. Earlier Thursday, Public Health Ontario reported a new record of 797 new cases of COVID-19 in the province. Also, four new COVID-19 deaths were reported, which included two deaths in LTC homes. Ontario Public Health also reports the total death count in Ontario as of Thursday morning is 2,992.

The Sudbury event took an emotional turn when sisters Helene Lalonde and Lynn Logtenberg spoke about the struggle of helping to care for their father, a resident of a long-term care home, who tested positive for COVID-19 in April.

The man was immediately isolated and quarantined in the nursing home for 14 days. The isolation ended after getting two negative test results.

“He had a hard time in isolation,” said Logtenberg. At one point, Lalonde wiped tears from her eyes while Logtenberg’s voice trembled with emotion.

She said it was upsetting because she and her sister were not being told about how much medication was being prescribed. She said it was scary.

“This is probably because there was a lack of staff,” she said.

Logtenberg said it was apparent the home had no policy of how to deal with the pandemic, deal with staff shortages, look after residents and then be forced to look after a patient who tested positive.

“More PSWs (personal support workers) are desperately needed. There have been studies on this for decades and yet shortages continue,” said Logtenberg.

She said once her father tested positive for the coronavirus, he was soon given many prescription drugs to “keep him calm” to the point where his daughters had difficulty talking with him because he would doze off.

“It was so frustrating. Our dad lost a lot of his abilities. He needed comforting and we were prevented from giving him that,” she said.

“He used to be happy. He used to be very talkative,” said Logtenberg. She said her father is unusually weak, is unable to stand and has difficulty with his legs. She said one of the few comforts she and her sister have now is the ability to help feed the man his lunch and supper every day.

Logtenberg said the government needs to provide more funding and incentives to get more workers willing and able to solve the staffing issues.

Also speaking at the event was Eric Boulay, representing Unifor Mine Mill Local 598. He said regardless of whether LTC homes are unionized or not, the one common problem in Ontario nursing homes is under-staffing, which is a direct result of under funding.

“I hear stories as mentioned earlier of one care worker expected to look after 16 residents in an eight-hour shift,” said Boulay.

He said the minimum standard should be enough workers to provide at least four hours of daily care for each resident.

That was endorsed by Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, the NDP health critic, who told the gathering that when she first ran for office in 2007, she was advocating 3.5 hours of daily hands-on care for each nursing home resident.

“Fast forward to 2020 and Ontario still does not have a minimum standard of care for the 70,000 vulnerable Ontarians who live in our long-term care homes,” said Gélinas.

She said it’s not rocket science and government knows the answer to providing quality care.

“You make PSW jobs into careers. You give them full-time hours. You give them full-time jobs with decent pay. You give them benefits, a pension plan and give them a workload that a human being can handle,” said Gélinas.

Sudbury MPP Jamie West, the NDP labour critic, said he was elected only two years ago, but said the problems of long-term care have been well defined for years.

“So for the government and Premier Ford to say ‘I’m not aware, and I don’t know, we need a commission,’ is ridiculous,” said West.

He said the latest announcement of more pay being offered to PSW’s is a “finger in the dyke” solution, that does nothing to solve a serious issue.

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