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Province slammed for investing in for-profit LTC homes where pandemic claimed lives

Posted: December 2, 2021

(December 1, 2021)

By: Allan Benner, The Standard

Julia Blushak shared heart-wrenching stories during an Ontario Health Coalition media conference, after her mother lost her life to the COVID-19 pandemic while residing in a for-profit long-term-care home.

Julia Blushak said she and her brother Paul cared for their parents for decades, while they resided in a long-term-care home in St. Catharines — until the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 prevented them from visiting.

The St. Catharines woman shared numerous horror stories about the care her parents Paul and Waltrina Belushak received while living at their “home away from home,” citing “ongoing” needless injuries and a lack of hygienic care leading to health issues.

While her father died more than a decade ago, she said her mother survived until Christmas Eve 2020, when a heart attack claimed her life, despite having no previous heart conditions. Blushak suspects her mother might still be alive today if she had been able to remain by her side.

“I would say the whittling of resilience of older people during that past year was horrendous. If they didn’t die of COVID, many died of the loneliness, isolation,” she said in an interview.

“The toll on that population for that year when caregivers couldn’t come to support them, you can’t measure it.”

Blushak was one of several people who spoke during an online Ontario Health Coalition media conference Wednesday morning to raise concerns about ongoing plans of the provincial government to invest in private, for-profit long-term care homes, despite the loss of thousands of lives provincewide during COVID-19 outbreaks.

“For-profit long-term care must not use and abuse our loved ones in order to capitalize from health care,” she said during the media conference. “Please, please, legislators, health-care leaders and Ontario families, honour and protect our most vulnerable.”

The plans of the province to invest millions of dollars in for-profit homes “does nothing to offset a historic saga of suffering for those who need specialized care die to aging and chronic diagnosis.”

“The horror continues even as I speak,” Blushak added, struggling with emotion.

Sue Hotte from the Niagara branch of the provincial coalition said the pandemic has wreaked “havoc on the lives of all residents living in these homes for the past year and a half.”

“More often than not, the most dire situations were found in for-profit homes, where we saw huge infection rates, high death rates and the most appalling care conditions,” she said.

In addition to thousands of new and revamped beds long-term care beds at for-profit homes across Ontario, the coalition’s report — called Public Money Private Profit: The Ford Government and the Privatization of the Next Generation of Ontario’s Long-Term Care — lists three for profit homes in Niagara communities that are receiving new and upgraded beds.

Two of the local homes listed in the coalition’s report — Royal Rose Place in Welland and Oakwood Park in Niagara Falls — experienced large COVID-19 outbreaks in late 2020 and early 2021, resulting in the deaths of dozens of residents.

Hotte said the for-profit long-term-care homes were never held accountable for their handling of the outbreaks, and instead “it looks like they’re being rewarded by getting new 30-year licences and bed expansions.”

Royal Rose Place, owned by Jarlette Health Services, is getting more than 60 new beds while its 96 existing beds were upgraded.

“During their outbreak, 71 of the 96 residents were ill and 26 died,” Hotte said, adding 48 staff members were sickened with the virus as well.

Renovations there, however, began before the start of the pandemic.

Hotte said Oakwood Park, operated by Mary Bans Holding Inc., is counting on creating a 288-bed residence, with an increase of 70 beds and the transfer of 60 beds from Valley Park Lodge.

“We all remember too well the huge outbreak they had last year that started around this time and ended around February, where 116 residents were ill, 35 died and 121 staff members were infected,” she said.

The province ultimately assigned Niagara Health hospitals to support efforts to bring that outbreak under control. It was declared over on Feb. 10.

“Our public money goes into the delivery of care and should not go to increase the profit margins of for-profit corporations, and (Premier Doug) Ford should be moving towards moving more beds to non-profits,” Hotte said. “Residents in our long-term-care homes deserve the best care possible.”

The health coalition report also listed five municipally owned and not-for-profit facilities where the province is investing in new and upgraded beds, including Linhaven in St. Catharines and Gilmore Lodge in Fort Erie, both operated by Niagara Region, as well as Foyer Richelieu in Welland, Niagara Health’s extended care unit at Welland hospital and Radiant Care Pleasant Manor in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

West Hills Care Centre Inc. in St. Catharines, operated by Unger Nursing Home Ltd., is getting 96 new beds and upgrades to 64 existing beds.

The full Ontario Health Coalition report can be found online.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care did not immediately respond to the allegations included the report.

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