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Open letter to Ford demands changes to long-term care

Posted: November 21, 2020

(November 20, 2020)

By: Michael Lee, The Kingston Whig Standard

Alessandro Presenza takes part in a protest organized by the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition, in Sudbury on June 24 JOHN LAPPA / SUDBURY STAR

A collection of groups representing families of current and former long-term care residents has issued an open letter to Premier Doug Ford demanding “accountability, transparency and a humane approach to the care of vulnerable seniors and adults.”

Signed by representatives from four groups — Canadians Against For-Profit Care and Support Group for the Elderly, Advocates for Long-Term Care Reform Ontario, Warrior Advocacy Crusade (All Seniors’ Lives Matter) Before Profit, and Our Seniors’ Deserve Better — the letter, which was shared by the Ontario Health Coalition, points to inadequate staffing and standards of care in long-term care, as well as overcrowding, that have been brought to light by the pandemic.

The letter goes on to say for-profit homes are putting dividends ahead of quality of care.

The letter includes five demands that call for the province to pass Bill 13, which would ensure at least four hours on average of combined nursing and personal support services each day for long-term care residents, and Bill 203, which aims to have certain rights ensured for those receiving care.

Also listed are demands to end the reliance on part-time and casual labour, while establishing full-time employment with benefits and sick leave to ensure the four-hour standard of care, abolishing Bill 195, which the letter argues allows long-term care homes to deploy untrained staff to any position they find reasonable, ending the for-profit model, and transparency around finances, staffing and actual death numbers from long-term care homes.

“Mr. Ford, you and your government have failed the most vulnerable members of our communities. We, the families of long-term care residents, are frustrated by the total lack of action to address the crisis in long-term care,” the letter reads.

“We do not want to hear any more empty promises. Take action now. Our seniors deserve humane care. We will continue to demand, shout and scream until they get it.”

The Ontario Health Coalition held an online media conference Friday about the letter, which heard from speakers who either work in or whose family members have been involved in long-term care.

Among them was Alessandro Presenza of Sudbury, founder of the group Canadians Against For-Profit Care and Support Group for the Elderly, whose father died in long-term care in March.

Presenza says he wasn’t allowed to see his 91-year-old father at the home he was living at, Extendicare Falconbridge, around mid-March because of COVID-19 measures.

He wouldn’t see him until later that month, at which point, Presenza says, he was told his father had gone into a depression and stopped eating. His father died on March 27.

Although his father didn’t die from COVID-19, Presenza says the weeks he wasn’t allowed to see his family were devastating to him.

Through his group, which has nearly 1,000 members on Facebook, Presenza says he wanted to do something that spoke to the underlying problem — that seniors are not a product to make money from.

“I started to understand that that was profit-driven and they were getting short-changed, the seniors in their care,” he said.

An Extendicare spokesperson provided a statement saying while it does not speak to individual circumstances involving residents due to privacy, it knows“how hard it is to lose a loved one and that precautions to protect residents from COVID-19 are an additional challenge in an already difficult time.

“All visitation restrictions have been at the direction of public health, as the best recourse available at the time to prevent infection of our residents and care staff. The various directives apply to every long-term care home in the province and are not exclusive to our home,” the statement said.

“Palliative visits have been available to families throughout the pandemic. Now that we have protocols in place to help ensure everyones safety, we are glad to see essential visitors back in our home to provide the social and emotional connections that mean so much to our residents.”

A statement provided by a spokesperson from the Ministry of Long-Term Care says the province is working hard, after decades of neglect by successive government, to solve the long-standing and systemic challenges facing the long-term care sector, including investing more than half a billion dollars to protect residents, caregivers and staff from the second wave of COVID-19.

“This will enable necessary renovations and measures to improve infection prevention and control, shore up personal protective equipment stockpiles, create emergency bed capacity, and build a strong healthcare workforce,” the statement says.

“We have taken expert recommendations from the staffing study and the commissions interim recommendations to heart. We recently announced that we are increasing the hours of direct care for each long-term care resident to an average of four hours per day — a record in the country. Delivering on this unprecedented commitment will require working closely with all partners across the sector, in order to hire the tens of thousands of staff needed. We will set hard targets, to be laid out in our forthcoming staffing strategy, to achieve this historic standard. COVID-19 demands a culture of continuous learning: the more we learn, the better we can plan and prepare for potential future waves.”

The Ontario Health Coalition recently filed a complaint to the Office of the Integrity Commissioner over alleged conflicts of interest among certain Progressive Conservative MPPs and long-term care, including former party staffers who left to work in the industry.

The complaint came in response to Bill 218, which recently passed in the Ontario legislature and has been criticized for protecting long-term care operators and others from legal liability for negligence related to their behaviour during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, who was named in the complaint, noted previously that only MPPs can make a complaint to the office.

Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said her understanding is any Ontarian can make a complaint, but the integrity commissioner is only required to investigate those made by MPPs.

She says work is ongoing on how to proceed.

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