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Personal stories back health coalition call to tackle long-term care crisis

Posted: March 5, 2021

(March 4, 2021)

By: Ellwood Shreve, Sarnia Observer

Speaking with her father is often a heartbreaking experience for Lucinda Allaer.

The 88-year-old Fairfield Park resident will beg his daughter to get him out of the Wallaceburg nursing home, where he’s been isolated for weeks while officials work to curb a devastating COVID-19 outbreak that’s infected more than 100 residents and staff.

“My dad cries all of time. … He talks about suicide. He asks me to help him to die,” Allaer said.

The Sarnia woman was sharing her family’s painful story as part of a virtual protest Wednesday calling for immediate action to tackle the province’s long-term care crisis.

Organized by the Ontario Health Coalition, a provincial umbrella group working to improve public health care, the livestreamed protest focused on the personal experiences of families from across Southwestern Ontario to highlight the problems plaguing the long-term care system.

Allaer described her father’s struggles coping with his isolation after he tested positive for COVID-19 in the wake of the Jan. 10-declared outbreak.

Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said the provincial government simply isn’t reacting quickly enough, despite a Dec. 17, 2020, announcement promising to increase staffing in long-term care homes.

While the plan “ostensibly embraces” what the health coalition has spent years fighting for -a minimum standard of four hours of hands-on care per resident each day -the province’s timeline -to “get to that by 2025” -A isn’t fast enough, Mehra said.

The first 15-minute increase in care, she noted, isn’t scheduled to begin until April 2022.

Because of staff attrition during the first and second waves of the pandemic, the system has already lost more than 15 minutes of hands-on care, Mehra said.

“This is cruelly slow,” she said, calling the government’s plan inadequate.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care did not respond to requests for comment.

With the lifespan of residents in long-term care only averaging 1.5 to two years, Mehra said many won’t be alive by time the improvements in care promised by Doug Ford’s Conservative government come to pass.

Pointing to the example of the Quebec government, which trained 10,000 personal support worker equivalents over a threemonth span last summer, Mehra said the province could be moving much quicker to address the crisis.

“That is the difference between a government who is serious about actually improving the care levels and a government that really trying to make it look like something is happening, when it really is not happening,” Mehra said.

Allaer said the current staffing model in long-term care is more about making a profit for owners and less about residents and hard-working staff.

“COVID has shone a bright light on the desperate need for fulltime and consistent staffing,” Allaer said.

Andrea Silcox, whose father James was murdered in August 2007 by Elizabeth Wettlaufer while the serial killer worked as a nurse at Caressant Care Woodstock, said the crisis has reached the point that “everyone dreads the day when they will have to put either mom or dad, or possibly even one of their children, in long-term care.”

She said the death of her father and seven other residents of Woodstock and London care homes at Wettlaufer’s hands led to a lengthy inquiry where “too many sickening faults in the system and its facilities were uncovered.”

Like Allaer, Silcox said for-profit long-term care homes are there for the profit.

“Every penny saved looks great to the owners and shareholders,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, coalition activists said, has only exacerbated the problems in long-term care.

As of Wednesday, Ontario’s COVID-19 data showed 3,756 of the province’s 6,994 total deaths could be traced to long-term care homes, including 3,745 being residents and 11 staff.

That trend has been highlighted by outbreaks at long-term care homes in Southwestern Ontario, including the 20 deaths and 135 infections during a lengthy outbreak at Maple Manor in Tillsonburg that began in December.

Sixty-three residents of Village at St. Clair in Windsor died during another December-declared outbreak that saw 177 residents and 143 staff members contract the virus.

Silcox said she’s never surprised at the regular reports of outbreaks in for-profit homes in her area.

During the pandemic, she said it’s been documented the average death rate for residents in for-profit homes is 5.2 per 100 compared to roughly 2.8 per 100 in non-profit homes.

“Even before COVID, there were more transfers to hospitals, more deaths and more reported bed ulcers for the for-profit community long-term care,” Silcox said.

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