'We have to make it right' — health critic appalled by 2,700+ pandemic deaths in Ontario's LTC homes
Ontario government 'very slow at going from talking about change to acting and doing something different'
Long-term care homes have been a major battleground for COVID-19 this past year, with strife around issues like mental health, isolation, staffing challenges and access to personal protective equipment.
For France Gélinas, NDP MPP for Nickel Belt and the opposition health critic, the failures in long term care have burned an unforgettable image in her mind.
"To see frail elderly people, skin and bone because they hadn't been fed looking out the window with sad eyes. I have a very hard time with this," she said.
Despite the "horrendous conditions" detailed in the military's report after concluding its mission to help the province's LTC homes during the first wave of the pandemic, "we have over 150 homes in outbreak right now." As of Dec. 30, Ontario was reporting over 192)
It's an unacceptable situation, Gelinas says.
"Ontarians are good people. They want this to change. The government is very slow at going from talking about change to actually acting and doing something different, as opposed to other provinces that have really changed things from the first wave to the second wave. Unfortunately, in Ontario, not much has changed and the results speak for themselves. We've had over 2,500 deaths." (As of Dec. 30, Ontario was reporting over 2,700)
People who are working in long term care homes are exhausted because of a chronic shortage of staff, she added.
"There's just too much work to be done. At the same time, they love their residents. They want the best for their residents, and they know that they are failing them," she said.
"It is hard on them emotionally to leave somebody on the toilet for 45 minutes because [they] don't have time to get her back into her wheelchair. They know that it's not right to leave a tray of food in front of someone for one-to-two hours because [they] haven't had time to go and help feed them. They know all of this. It eats at them."
Gelinas says she hopes that Ontarians will continue to demand quality care for the 78,000 seniors in long term care.
"Frail, elderly people should be respected for everything they have done for us. We stand on their shoulders in a province that has prospered," she said.
"I hope that we keep them at the front of the priority list. Long term care is not sexy. It doesn't grab headlines. People know what is going on behind those closed doors now. It gives me hope because Ontarians are good people and they know the difference between right and wrong. And right now what's going on is wrong and we know how to make it right."
Canada's proportion of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care is double the average of other countries. More than 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care.