How Doug Ford failed our long-term care system

Posted on July 23, 2020 in Child & Family Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Star Columnists

Think hard about the numbers 9 and 34 for a moment!

Now think about the number 35.

Finally, consider the number 38,400.

As hard as it may be to believe, the numbers 9 and 34 are cited as how many long-term-care beds were created in Ontario during Doug Ford’s first 18 months as premier. Both come from Ford’s own government, the first from the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care and the second from the government’s long-term care systems report. Both can’t be right, but both are equally pitiful.

The number 35 is the number of in-depth reports over the past 20 years recommending ways to improve Ontario’s beleaguered long-term care system. And yet Ford will announce in the coming days the names for yet another time-consuming independent commission into what’s wrong with the sector.

And the number 38,400 is how many Ontario residents are on waiting lists right now for a bed in a long-term care facility.

Together, these stark statistics are a strong condemnation of Ford’s neglect and indifference to the troubled long-term care sector during most of his time as Ontario premier.

Despite the numbers, though, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic erupted four months ago, resulting in some 1,700 deaths in facilities across the province that Ford finally sat up and took notice.

The statistics are also a clear sign that Ford has failed our long-term care sector — a system that was already in bad shape when he took office in June, 2018, and which he vowed during the provincial election to address by improving access to long-term care with the expansion of long-term care beds.

Today, the system is in a worsening crisis — with a severe shortage of beds, underpaid and overworked staff, often dreadful living and working conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit nursing homes and acute-care facilities particularly hard.

No one has watched what’s happened in the system in the past few decades more than Natalie Mehra, the tireless executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, which is comprised of more than 400 organizations advocating for improvements in our health-care system.

For years Mehra has travelled tens of thousands of kilometres around the province, meeting with front-line workers, administrators, politicians, patients and their families. What she has heard and seen has shocked, saddened and angered her — enough to make a person weep.

Mehra is convinced Ford must act quickly or the system will degenerate into an even greater mess.

“There is no path out of this crisis without the government stepping in,” she says. “Every day we hear from families who are devastated by what is happening to their loved ones. We are also hearing from staff who are risking themselves and their families to go in every day. It is heartbreaking.

“We are hearing from hospital staff, palliative care physicians and others that the residents being admitted to hospitals and in a number of the homes are malnourished and severely dehydrated. There is not enough staff to provide basic care and not enough to provide sound palliative care.”

Mehra and other experts have long promoted a wide range of recommendations to address the long-term problems, including a minimum standard of four hours a day of hands-on care for each resident, reinstating mandatory annual inspections that Ford ended, fixing staffing shortages, requiring air conditioning in all buildings and mandating single rooms for residents and much more.

Ford announced last week his government would spend $1.75 billion to cover 8,000 new beds and redevelop 12,000 beds. Sounds good, but in fact Ford was merely reannouncing a promise he made in 2018 and one that was similar to pledges made by the previous Liberal government.

“Our government won’t accept the status quo in long-term care,” Ford said this week at a ceremony announcing a pilot quick-build project for up to 640 new beds in Mississauga. “We made a commitment to seniors and their families to improve the quality of Ontario’s long-term care homes and we intend to follow through.”

As Natalie Mehra says, there can be “no excuse for a government not intervening actively, systematically, rigorously” to improve the sector. It’s their fundamental obligation to Ontarians.

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