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Public workers urge Ford government to send in the military to help with growing long-term care COVID outbreak nightmare

Posted: January 3, 2021

(January 2, 2021)

By: Rhythm Sachdeva, St. Catharines Standard

People protest outside the Tendercare Living Centre last week, which has been hard hit during the second wave of COVID-19. The Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario is joining calls to send the military into the province’s hardest hit homes.

It’s time for the Ontario government to send the military into long-term-care homes, the Canadian Union of Public Employees says.

With growing COVID-19 outbreaks in the province’s care homes, “We are tragically losing the battle to protect long-term care residents,” CUPE Ontario secretary-treasurer Candace Rennick said in a news release Saturday. “The homes and staff are on the verge of total crisis and collapse.”

The union is joining the Ontario Health Coalition in asking the Ford government to send the military into the hardest hit homes, as it did during the first wave of the virus.

On Wednesday, coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said it was clear the measures the province had taken since the second wave of COVID hit Ontario were insufficient. “What we’re seeing is worse than anything I have ever seen in the homes,” she said.

As of Jan. 1, Public Health Ontario reported 2,814 COVID deaths among residents of long-term-care homes and 11,217 total confirmed cases of the virus.

In its release, CUPE said there were 187 homes in outbreak with 1,186 positive residents and 1,050 positive staff, although those figures are likely a day out of date.

In a statement Wednesday night, the province insisted it is doing all it can to stem the second wave.

CUPE said the PC government’s efforts to reform long-term care were “lethargic and inadequate.” And it also called military intervention “a temporary solution to the worsening crisis caused by the government’s failure to implement immediate and meaningful reforms needed months ago. This kind of crisis cannot continue to be met with half measures by the province.”

The union is asking the province to ramp up long-term-care reforms, including immediately ending the practice of keeping residents with COVID in the same facilities as uninfected residents; ensuring all staff are properly equipped; immediately increasing staff compensation and access to full-time jobs; providing paid tuition and compensation for training of long-term-care workers so additional staff can be trained and recruited more quickly; and ending the expansion of for-profit beds.

“We call on the Ontario government to move immediately to enhance the working conditions for those providing care by providing stable, full-time employment,” Debra Maxfield, chairperson of CUPE’s Health Care Workers’ Co-ordinating Committee, said in the release.

“The current model of 60 per cent of the workforce being casual and part-time has proven to be a disaster. A real recruitment program with tuition and paid training is urgently needed to bring the thousands of needed additional staff into the sector.”

In an email to the Toronto Star, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of long term care outlines the other ways that the government has responded to the second outbreak.

“More recently, long-term care homes in the GTA may now refer residents to the newly opened Specialized Care Centre. It is providing surge capacity for long-term care homes that are managing a COVID-19 outbreak or experiencing other challenges.”

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton argues that the government is addressing long-standing staffing challenges by launching “one of the largest recruitment and training drives in the province’s history” that is expected to to provide an average of four hours of daily direct care for residents.

As of Jan. 1, 2,814 residents of the province’s long-term-care homes have died.

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