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Seniors in Ontario’s long-term care homes suffering from decades-old systemic failures

Posted: July 13, 2021

(July 12, 2021)

By: Tamara Ugolini

Since publishing my report on Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., the response has been overwhelming. I knew that long-term care needed help, but I didn’t realize how tragic and deep-seated the issues are.

What’s happening in long-term care is appalling. My continuing investigation is confirming what advocacy groups, like the Guardian Angels for Seniors Program and Concerned Friends of Ontario Care Facilities, along with many other individuals with family members in these homes, have said — there are decades-old, systemic failures harming our seniors.

The Canadian military’s report confirmed all of this. It outlined negligence and depravity in the long-term care sector. But it didn’t name Pinecrest Nursing Home specifically — where nearly half of residents died in a two and a half week span, due to what appears to be hysteria generated by COVID-19.

In this report, I source the Ontario Science Table’s Science Brief from January 2021 titled, “COVID-19 and Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes.”

It confirms, “Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) home residents have experienced disproportionately high morbidity and mortality, both from COVID-19 and from the conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The data show that Canada has the highest proportion of COVID-19 deaths occurring in LTC among the 16 other countries within the organization for economic co-operation and development (OECD). On page 4, in the fine print, that number is revealed as an astonishing 81 per cent!

Further in the report, on page 17, are details of a curious spike in prescriptions of psychoactive medications prior to the pandemic. The jump in use of antidepressants, trazadone and antipsychotics in long-term care residents cannot be ignored.

Here in Ontario we aren’t getting an inquest, a formal court proceeding like what they’re getting in Quebec — we got a Commission Report instead. In July 2020, the commissioners said that they “will be doing this work very quickly.” It’s a massive undertaking to expedite — so much so that they asked for an extension.

Throughout the report, there are numerous communication issues highlighted. On page 400:

“The commission continues to encounter significant delays in obtaining government information central to the commissions investigation.” In order to meet its obligation, the commission requested all information about the “measures taken to prevent, isolate and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the province’s long term care homes before and through the second wave. In light of the ongoing pandemic and the commissions outstanding requests for information,” they asked for an extension to complete the “final report on December 31, 2021.”

The Ford government, including his new Minister of Long-Term Care — the previously estranged caucus member Rod Phillips — has pledged to invest $4.9 BILLION over four years to hire 27,000 long-term care staff. This, only after former Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton bid her farewells, tooting her own horn while entirely ignoring the system that remains broken.

This is the same government that “rammed through Bill 218 in the fall of 2020, a piece of legislation that significantly raises the burden of proof for families attempting to sue LTC homes for alleged negligence.”

Advocates like the Ontario Health Coalition have critiqued the Spending Plan Review of the Ministry of Long-Term Care, published by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO). In this release and briefing note, they say that “the numbers show in detail how the Ford government has made a choice to fund LTC for-profit operators tens of millions of dollars throughout the pandemic that they have taken in dividends (profits) and for executive bonuses, rather than actually improving care, and while leaving the sector without enough funding to meet desperately important public priorities.”

Is it any surprise that the government is prioritizing the funding of for-profit homes? Ontario has the most long-term care homes of all the provinces and territories in Canada, with 627 long-term care homes, 57 per cent of which are for profit.

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