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‘We want long-term care fixed now’

Posted: October 10, 2020

(October 9, 2020)

By: Colleen Romaniuk, Sudbury Star

The Ontario Health Coalition held a province-wide Day of Action on Thursday calling the Ford government to take immediate steps to improve conditions in long-term care facilities.

Participants, including members of the Sudbury Health Coalition, health-care workers, family members with relatives in long-term care, and local MPPs, gathered for a small press conference and car motorcade outside of Pioneer Manor at 11 a.m.

They joined over 20 branches across Ontario who gathered at the same time to demand increased funding to long-term care facilities, a concrete recruitment plan for PSWs and other caregivers, and a minimum standard of care for patients.

“The purpose of this event is to tell Doug Ford and the Ford government that we want long-term care fixed now,” said Dot Klein, co-chair of the Sudbury Health Coalition.

“Our loved ones who live in long-term care are dying. Almost 2,000 long-term care residents and staff died during the first wave of COVID-19. Now, we’re into the second wave. We do not want a repeat of what happened the first time, but we’re finding out that there are outbreaks in long-term care homes already. That’s unacceptable.”

Issues in Ontario’s long-term care facilities are well-documented, and they predate the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates have been calling for long-term care reform for well over 20 years, said Klein.

Staffing shortages, inadequate funding, a lack of full-time work for PSWs, and poor working conditions are some of the problems that chronically impact the sector.

“We want no more band-aids,” she said. “Long-term care needs a minimum care standard of four to 4.5 hours of front-line, hands-on care per resident per day. There is no approved minimum care standard now. Care is given in relation to the number of qualified staff working that day.”

Klein said it is not uncommon to have a PSW caring for “not just eight residents, but 10, 12, 16 – even 20 – residents per day.”

COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues, putting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities at increased risk.

“This issue was urgent years ago,” said Sudbury MPP Jamie West. “Long before I was a politician, they were talking about four hours of hands-on care for seniors. COVID-19 put a lens on it and highlighted how bad it was. This is an opportunity, with public support and the willpower of government, to get it done.”

West said it “should be the legacy of the 42nd parliamentary sitting in Ontario that we finally take care of what’s happening in long-term care homes.”

Although the Ford government recently announced an additional $540 million in funding to protect residents and staff in long-term care homes, the OHC said that “the money is far less than what is needed.”

The organization was also critical of the fact that the provincial government has not established a clear recruitment plan nor committed to addressing a lack of full-time work and poor working conditions.

On Oct. 5, the province announced it would be tightening restrictions on entry into longterm care homes to include only staff, essential visitors, and two essential caregivers per resident who must register to gain access in regions hard-hit by an increase in positive cases of COVID-19.

Lynn Logtenberg, whose father resides in long-term care, shared her experience with lockdowns during the pandemic.

She said her dad tested positive for COVID in April, and she and her sister have been designated as essential caregivers, visiting each day to help him eat lunch and dinner.

“When Premier Ford’s government shut down the nursing homes during the first wave for residents’safety, it failed to consider the emotional effects isolation cause,” she said. “We are now wondering if the mental effects of isolation are better or worse for our loved ones in the long-term care homes.”

She noted the virus entered the homes even though family was initially prevented from visiting during the first wave.

“Despite the fact that we last visited our dad on March 13, our dad was one of the residents who did test positive on April 26,” she said. “If the nursing home had had enough staff, perhaps we would have received a call before it reached the media.”

Logtenberg’s father was isolated until he received two negative test results.

While the sisters said that is understandable, their father was struggling. When hiring one-onone care for their father didn’t work, staff at the nursing home had to medicate him to keep him comfortable.

“Our dad lost a lot of his abilities.

He needed comfort, and we were prevented from giving him that,” she said.

“He used to be happy. He used to do things independently. When we were let back into the nursing home, he was failing to thrive. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t the same, and he’s still not. Most residents lost weight. We believe our dad went through withdrawals due to being medicated. He often refuses to take his meds – he states they are trying to kill him with drugs. This is not a shame on the nursing home. This is a shame on our government.”

Under the new restrictions on entry, many more families are being separated for a second time.

Kim Evans, whose mother is a resident at Extendicare Falconbridge, is currently awaiting the results of her COVID-19 test so that she can visit her mother, who was recently released from the hospital after doctors determined they couldn’t do any more to treat her congestive heart failure.

“I have six brothers and four sisters, and none of them are able to see her,” said Evans, even though the doctor estimated that her mother had about two weeks left to live.

“I wasn’t told about being able to be designated as an essential caregiver – I found out by reading an article online. That’s when I got in touch with the director and was put in touch with someone who gave me a package so that I could get in.”

According to the communications team at Extendicare Falconbridge, in order to become an essential caregiver an individual must be over 18 years of age, conduct and pass a self-screening for potential COVID-19 symptoms before arriving at the home, and comply with infection prevention and control protocols, including proper use of PPE.

“The government of Ontario revised its directive on visitation at long-term care homes in areas deemed to be high risk. While we are not seeing cases rise as severely here as in parts of southern Ontario, our area has been identified as having higher community spread,” said a spokesperson for Extendicare Falconbridge.

“We know that as cases of community spread increase, so does the virus’s opportunity to enter long-term care environments. The new visitor policies are in place to protect our residents as much as possible during this resurgence.”

The nursing home is still allowing palliative care visits for residents nearing the end of their lives. However, Evans said residents must meet certain criteria to have access to those visits.

“We’re not allowed to see her because she has to be at 20 per cent capacity,” said Evans. “I was told by the doctor that took her from the hospital to the nursing home that she was at 20 per cent, but when she got there, it was a totally different story.”

There are approximately 78,000 seniors in 626 long-term care homes throughout the province.

In a Zoom press conference that coincided with the Ontario Health Coalition’s province-wide rallies, Liberal health critic and Ottawa South MPP John Fraser estimated that Ontario needs to hire 10,000 to 15,000 workers in long-term care homes right now.

There is one long-term care home in Ottawa, he added, that has a single PSW working with 30 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We heard talk about those that are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” said Logtenberg. “However, it seems Premier Ford is failing to consider how longterm care homes and residents of those homes have been affected to date, and will continue to be affected without more funding for more qualified PSWs.”

Change is needed now, she said, “so no other resident lives or dies in loneliness.”

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