What more is needed for the Ford government to do the right thing on long-term care?

Posted on October 27, 2020 in Child & Family Delivery System

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial

Back in May, Premier Doug Ford said Ontario couldn’t conduct a proper public inquiry into the crisis state of long-term care and the tragic COVID-19 deaths of vulnerable seniors because we couldn’t afford the time that would take.

“I’m not going to sit here and wait for two and a half, three and a half years for an inquiry to give us recommendations,” Ford said when he announced his government’s plan to appoint an independent commission to get the job done faster.

“I’m responsible, at the end of the day, to make sure we get the answers.”

On Friday, Ford’s long-term care commissioners rushed out some of those answers for him in an interim report.

Yet, despite what he claimed was his intention, Ford is not hurrying to follow their recommendations and make things better for people in long-term care. It demonstrates an appalling lack of urgency on the part of this government and it’s completely unacceptable given everything we know.

The vulnerable seniors in these homes were forgotten in the first wave of the pandemic – the interim report makes that clear – and given the Ford government’s go-slow response to these recommendations it seems there’s a good chance they will be once again.

Ontario is battling a second wave of the virus that is far from being brought under control. This past weekend saw record high case numbers, the seven-day average is up and positivity rates are up.

And what comes as a surprise to absolutely no one is that this rise in cases and community spread is a deadly threat to people in long-term care. Outbreaks in homes have quadrupled over the past month. There are now 83 outbreaks in long-term-care homes.

More than 1,990 people have already died in Ontario’s long-term-care homes from COVID-19. There’s no time to waste before taking measures to better protect both residents and staff.

“Given the continuing urgency of the situation and high risks in long-term care homes, our Commission is making some early recommendations that focus on staffing, collaborative relationships, and infection prevention and control,” chief commissioner Frank Marrocco wrote to Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

The commission’s recommendations include increasing hours of care for residents to four hours a day, hiring more full-time staff and more qualified staff to handle the increasingly complex health care needs of residents, and faster COVID-19 testing.

Those are all good suggestions and there’s nothing particularly surprising about any of them. Indeed, they’ve all been called for multiple times before. And in July when Ford appointed the commissioners he vowed to “take up” any of their recommendations.

So the government’s answer to the interim report should be a simple: “Thanks. We’ll get right on it.”

Sadly, Ford said no such thing. Fullerton’s response was a weak “we are carefully reviewing each of the recommendations.” And her office has said the government intends to release a long-term care staffing strategy sometime this year.

That’s a pretty poor understanding of the word urgent. Or the commission’s blunt assessment that when it comes to beefing up staffing in long-term care further study is “not necessary” and what’s required is “timely implementation.”

There were calls months ago, including from the Star, for a proper public inquiry into the crisis in long-term care while at the same time taking immediate steps to protect those living and working in these homes. The government did neither.

The Ford government chose a commission over a public inquiry. Then it set a narrower mandate for the commission than what’s needed to truly fix a system that often warehouses seniors more than it helps them live in dignity. And the immediate changes it has made to long-term care fall short of the need.

Yet, despite Ford’s attempt to control the situation, his own handpicked commissioners are now urging him to act immediately on the very things that experts, advocates and the opposition have long been demanding.

What more is needed before this government finally does the right thing?


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