Action needed on care homes.

Locally, residents at local retirement / long-term care homes at Humber Heights and West Park are enduring severe outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other care homes are battling outbreaks throughout the province. Half of Ontario’s (291 as of April 14) COVID-19 death toll has been from care-home residents. As of last Friday, 99 of Ontario’s 629 care homes were reporting infections.

29 residents have died in a 65-bed nursing home in Bobcaygeon . The Ontario Health Ministry has secured help for the home from private company Extendicare; curiously the same people who run West Park’s Long Term Care Centre, currently undergoing its own COVID-19 outbreak. In fact the CBC has the story of a resident at West Park Long Term Care who says that the place is grossly understaffed and residents are being neglected. The resident, fearing retaliation from staff asked to remain anonymous.

Some care home staff have been staying home, fearful of being infected or infecting family members because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Astonishingly, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams waited until last week before requiring workers to wear masks in care homes. Personal care staff are often required to work in more than one location to make ends meet (full time work is often denied to them so that care homes and agencies can avoid paying benefits).

Premier Ford’s mother-in-law is a long-term care resident at West Park and the premier says it breaks his heart to see his wife Carla helplessly standing outside her mother’s window in tears. While Ford says that it’s ‘very very difficult’ for hundreds of thousands of families right now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot being done. “We’re doing everything we can.“, is often all that he can muster, a comment echoed by health minister Christine Elliott.

Sorry Premier, Minister Elliott, Dr. Williams, that’s not good enough.

While many of these homes are privately run facilities, they are largely taxpayer funded and subsidized. Many years of underfunding by Liberals and (now) Conservatives is a big part of the problem.

Since half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths are occurring in care homes, here are some urgent questions on the following:

  • How will you stop the further spread of COVID-19 in care homes?
  • What measures are you taking to ensure adequate PPE is getting to these facilities?
  • How are you ensuring that there are adequate staff levels?
  • Will you end staff being forced to work part-time at several care homes in order to make a living (currently it’s only a recommendation from MOH Dr. Williams)?
  • Will funding be increased to support long term care homes now and in the future?
  • Will you authorize an immediate, substantial pay rise for front-line health care workers?
  • Will you test every resident and worker in long term care homes?

Until these points are addressed Premier, you’re not doing everything you can.

Update 1: Premier Ford announced today that as of midnight on Tuesday April 14, care workers will be banned from working at more than one establishment. The province will top up any lost wages.

Update 2: It turns out that Mr Ford is only applying this measure for two weeks. Is there an emoji for ‘facepalm’?

Update 3: After reading the fine print, the unsettling news is that this brief measure doesn’t apply to agency workers. Read the depressing details here.