'We're in a crisis': Ontario NDP wants separate inquiry into long-term care

The leader of the Ontario NDP says that the Wettlaufer inquiry alone does not go far enough to protect Ontario families from a longterm health-care system that "imploding on itself."

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said they'll hold a full inquiry if elected

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spent Wednesday at round table discussions with southwestern Ontario families discussing long term health care. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

The Wettlaufer inquiry alone does not go far enough to protect Ontario families from a long-term health-care system that Ontario's NDP leader says is "imploding on itself."

Andrea Horwath called for a second, broader inquiry of the long-term health-care system in Ontario while meeting with families in round-table discussions about the issue. 

"It's obvious that our long-term care system is broken," said Horwath. "We're in a crisis. There has to be some attention to this issue."

Horwath said the Wettlaufer inquiry is the first step. The Liberal government announced they will hold an inquiry into how the former nurse was able to kill eight seniors at nursing homes in London and Woodstock.

The Liberal government is still finalizing the details of the inquiry which they say will focus "on the circumstances of the Elizabeth Wettlaufer case," according to a statement released last month. 

A start date for the inquiry has not been set. 

An interview request for Minister of Long-Term Care Eric Hoskins was declined. 

Horwath said a second, separate inquiry needs to look at staffing levels, funding and safety conditions in care homes across the province.

"Let's expand the scope so that we have an inquiry that looks at our entire long-term care system where folks are not getting the kind of dignity and care that they deserve." 

Walkerton Blueprint

Horwath said the NDP is modeling their request for a broader inquiry after the Walkerton E. coli contamination.

"Certainly everybody wanted to see the water tainting that happened in Walkerton dealt with," said Horwath. "But the Justice there decided — and rightly so — that there was a broader issue around water safety in our province."

She said that there's a similar connection between the Wettlaufer case and long-term health care in the province. 

"Yes the Wettlaufer murders are heinous crimes and yes there's an absolutely a necessity to look into how that could happen here in Ontario," she said.

Andrea Horwath listens to Carol Saxby explain how her mother's level of care has changed at her long-term care facility. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"But what we also need to recognize and acknowledge is that our long-term care system is failing families, failing our loved ones on a daily basis."

When should it start? 'Yesterday'

Horwath made the call for a broader inquiry inside the home of Carol Saxby, chair of family counsel at Westomunt Gardens Long Term Care Community. 

Saxby's 93 year-old mother has been a resident there for seven years.

"She has dementia," said Saxby, who said she volunteers on bus trips that her mother goes on organized by the long-term care centre. 

"She's to the point where sometime's she knows me, sometime's she doesn't."

Carol Saxby and her 93 year-old mother Madeline Shillington who has been in a long-term care facility for 7 years. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Saxby remembers when nurses had time to sit and chat with patients, she said now there's not enough staff to provide the proper level of care. 

"I remember a personal support worker playing a game of cribbage to keep her mind active," said Saxby. 

She wiped away tears while listing some of the things that she believes need to be addressed at long-term care centre's across the province. 

"Funding, staffing, time and it all joins together," she said. 

"And it all joins together in my opinion. If we had more funding, we could get more staff. If we had more staff we get more time to deal with the resdients."

Saxby said she supports the NDP's call for a broader inquiry, saying it needed to start "yesteday."

Is an inquiry needed? 

The administrator at Westmount Gardens Long Term Care Community said she doesn't believe an inquest is necessary. 

"I don't necessarily agree that we need a public inquiry into what's needed in long-term care," said Mary Alice Barr. "I think it's blazingly obvious."

She said speaking to family members and staff makes it obvious what's needed to make long-term care better. 

Mary Alice Barr is an administrator at Westmount Gardens Long Term Care Community in London. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"If that's what it takes? Then we're behind it 100 per cent," said Barr, who said that 90 per cent of government funding they receive is spent on staffing and the rest is spent on medical supplies and equipment. 

Horwath said that the inquest is a tool to get government to take action. 

"It's unfortunate but often times it takes something like that to really move the government to do something," said Horwath.