A few years ago my father-in-law was a resident in a local, well known long-term care home. This was when homes were better funded and unlike today (thank you Mike Harris), the home was non-profit. He was recovering from a series of minor strokes, had Parkinson’s disease, was incontinent and while he could walk around, had been reduced to a child-like state.
My elderly and disabled mother-in-law visited him daily and it was soon obvious that there was a disquieting and sinister undercurrent running through the place. Many of the residents were physically disabled – victims of strokes or accidents and they and their relatives lived in fear of retaliation by staff if they spoke out about conditions in the home. My MIL discovered that at mealtimes, residents would be served and the meal would often be untouched after 30 minutes when it would be removed. Like several others, she ended up hiring an attendant to feed her husband so that he wouldn’t die of starvation.
At the home, staff had somehow persuaded management that uniforms were authoritarian and intimidating, so they wandered around indistinguishable from visitors. Residents would be left in soiled diapers for hours and changed grudgingly as if it was a great favour. Many residents were tied to their chairs so they wouldn’t be a nuisance between mealtimes. I was drafted to write letters, put on a suit and do battle with management (several times) and things slowly improved for my FIL. Sadly, few others had relatives who could or would do this. In those days, the only alternative, home care, was even less adequate than it is today.
Fast forward to the pandemic of 2020 and behold the sight of Premier Ford blinking with emotion and surprise that the Canadian Armed Forces had reported squalid conditions and seemingly criminal neglect in the care homes where they had been assigned.
Long Term Care Minister Dr. Merrilee Fullerton seems equally bemused but that’s better than admitting that the reason might be that the Ford government reduced funding and inspections (an average home can now expect a full inspection once every 100 years). Add to that years of neglect by governments of all parties and long term care residents were sitting targets. Upwards of 80% of Ontario Covid-19 deaths have been in care homes. The highest rates have been in homes that were for profit. This was largely due to a lack of direction from Minister Fullerton and the systemic exploitation of low-paid agency workers, forced to work in several locations in order to make a living.
Health Minister (and former Long Term Health Care Minister) Christine Elliott claims to know nothing about long term care home conditions but she may have a short memory.
The Feds no doubt are secretly pleased that the Army embarrassed Ford but they’ve got skin in the game.
Ford will resist holding an inquiry or changing the legislation. He’ll hope that the heat will die down and the public will be satisfied with a few dramatic band-aid gestures.
That won’t cut it.
If we’re stuck with private companies running long term care homes for a profit, there should be strong legislation to safeguard residents including standards of care, staffing levels, supervisory community involvement and rigorous, frequent, meaningful inspections.
Let’s see if Premier Ford’s tears are real or theatrical.