A humanitarian crisis is unfolding here in Ontario, one that could have been prevented. If thousands of children had died in institutions during the course of this pandemic, the institutions would have been closed down and criminal charges likely would have been laid. But the majority of deaths have been seniors in long-term care homes. And little has been done to quell the growing numbers of infections and deaths in long-term care. During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the International Longevity Centre for Canada reported that 82% of all Covid-19 deaths in Canada occurred in long-term care homes. It was reported that death rates were especially high in private for-profit long-term care homes. Despite accounts of negligence, in Ontario, not one long-term care home has been fined. Not one long-term care home has lost its license.
Now, as predicted, the second wave is becoming worse than the first wave. Our friends and family members living in long-term care homes continue to get sick and die in ever-increasing numbers. Those who are in desperate need of hospitalization may be unable to access a bed as many hospitals in the province are reaching ICU capacity.
Reports of insufficient care have been the norm in Ontario’s long-term care homes for decades. Last year the Armed Forces provided a disturbing assessment of intolerable conditions in long-term care homes. There has been inadequate action to address the inhumane conditions and the growing number of deaths. This is undoubtedly a reflection of a most heinous form of ageism. Covid-19 has made it clear that Canada needs a national not-for-profit plan for long-term care homes with national standards and processes for robust accountability.
For years there have been calls for a four-hour minimum care standard in Ontario’s long-term care homes. The recent response of the Ontario government to institute such a policy, but only in several years, is not helping our vulnerable seniors now. The vaccination process has begun but so far, the rollout has been dreadfully slow. According to Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, speaking on January 4th, there are presently 100,000 doses of vaccine, 71% of the total, waiting in freezers. They will do no good until they are administered.
In order to increase resident care and infection control, we must increase staffing levels and the use of appropriate PPE. We need more personal support workers (PSWs). They are the backbone of our long-term care system. They are overworked, underpaid and leaving the profession in droves. The government could begin a serious recruitment drive for PSWs specifically for long-term care. It could pay them for fast-tracked training and provide them with full-time work and improved wages and working conditions. Quebec did that and has greatly increased its long-term care staffing levels.
On January 3, 2021 the province reported Covid-19 outbreaks in 207 long-term care homes and a total of 1,140 confirmed active cases of positive residents. With 2,781 resident deaths in Ontario long-term care homes, it is time again for military intervention. It is also paramount that the 500,000 vaccines that will have been delivered to Ontario by the end of January be administered right away. Every missed opportunity is a potential loss of life.
District 3 Algoma is a branch of the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTOERO). As a seniors’ group, we consider health care a priority. We are concerned that Covid-19 cases are dramatically increasing in our district just as they are across the province. District 3 RTOERO implores the Ontario government to act immediately to stop the rising number of Covid-19 cases in long-term care homes and the mounting death toll among long-term care residents. Not to do so will fuel speculation that seniors are considered expendable in Ontario.
Political Advocacy Representative, District 3 RTOERO