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“Rise Up For Long-Term Care” Rallies Call for Government Action to Protect Seniors in Care

Posted: October 6, 2021

(October 5, 2021)

By: Workers’ Forum Online Supplement of the Marxist-Leninist

Queen’s Park, October 4, 2021

Rallies were held in 18 Ontario cities, including at Queen’s Park on October 4, the first day of the fall sitting of the Ontario Provincial Legislature. Organized by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), the aim of the “Rise Up for Long-Term Care” rallies was to publicly highlight the lack of any action by the Ford government to protect seniors living in long-term care (LTC) facilities. People who participated, mainly at the constituency offices of Conservative MPPs, denounced the callous disregard of the Ford government for the lives of seniors living in LTC facilities and their loved ones which has been brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Close to 4,000 Ontario seniors have died of COVID-19 in LTC homes, the majority in homes operated for profit by private owners. Numerous reports, a public inquiry and actions by workers and their unions and families of seniors have highlighted the terrible conditions in many of the LTC homes, including severe staff shortages, lack of protective equipment for workers, cuts to care and meal programs and overall neglect.

In the face of all the evidence, the Ford government has done absolutely nothing to protect seniors and workers and improve conditions. The Ford government has instead strengthened the hand of the private owners, enabling them to continue exploiting the workers and compromising the security, well-being and health of the workers and their residents. Speakers at the action at Queen’s Park and others across the province were united in calling for the defeat of the Ford Conservatives at the next provincial election on June 2, 2022.

Health care workers, union representatives and leaders of the OHC spoke out on the track record of the Ford government. Some quoted Premier Ford’s public statement when news of mounting deaths hit the headlines in the early days of the pandemic, that he would place an “iron ring” around LTC homes to protect the vulnerable seniors living there. As it turns out, one speaker said, the only “iron ring” Ford placed was one that protected the “vultures” who own and run these facilities to squeeze out maximum profits on the backs of the workers, residents and their families. They cited Bill 218 which was rushed through the legislature last fall which indemnifies long-term care homes against lawsuits for negligence resulting in harm and death in the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more difficult for families to seek justice for their loved ones who died or were harmed in other ways.

Furthermore, to add insult to injury, these same companies are now being given 30-year extensions on their operating licenses which allow them to continue to operate with impunity. Because of the low wages and terrible working conditions, it is reported that at least 30 per cent of personal support workers are planning to leave their jobs, which will further degrade the quality of care for residents.

At Queen’s Park, Natalie Mehra, the Executive Director of the OHC, and others, denounced the empty promises, lies and smoke-and-mirrors tactics aimed at bamboozling the public into believing that action is being taken to address the serious crisis in long-term care. She noted that there has been no monitoring of any sort of the running of these facilities to ensure a consistent level of care. In fact since the Ford government came to power it has abandoned inspections altogether and enabled the owners of privately run homes to monitor themselves with disastrous results. Not a single owner has been held to account, she pointed out.

One of the speakers at the Queen’s Park rally, Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, an LTC researcher and advocate, stated “When are we going to get a lick of justice? The Ford government is spitting on the graves of the people who died.”

The families have not given up and many continue to seek justice through lawsuits against the government. Lawyer Melissa Miller who represents many families whose loved ones died in the LTC homes during the pandemic said that she has reviewed countless documents and reports calling for reforms in the manner in which LTC facilities are run in Ontario but absolutely nothing has been done.

A number of speakers at the rally at Queen’s Park denounced the government’s plan to continue to expand private long-term care capacity and to look at the recruitment of temporary foreign workers with little training to work as personal support workers and in other jobs. The plan was announced by Minister of Long Term Care Rod Phillips on August 12 in the name of alleviating the crisis in LTC homes.

The rallies expressed the determination of the OHC, unions representing LTC workers, family members and support groups to continue the fight for an end to private-for-profit care and for a publicly funded and publicly run long-term care system in Ontario that is adequately staffed so that seniors can live with dignity, safety and security.

(Photos: WF, OHC)

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