Toronto

Ontario long-term care association calls on province to commit to public inquiry

The association representing the majority of Ontario's long-term care homes says it would support a government inquiry of the sector.

Immediate action is required to support care homes in the interim, association says

Crosses have been laid out for the 50 residents who have lost their lives due to COVID-19 at Camilla Care Community, a long-term care home in Mississauga, Ont. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

The association representing most long-term care homes in Ontario came out in support of a public inquiry into the sector Saturday, but said more had to be done to support care homes in the interim as deaths continue to mount.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association said a review would solve long-standing issues with the provincial model for care homes, but the unprecedented threat of COVID-19 means action on personal protective equipment and staffing levels was required immediately.

"Public inquiries are important, but they take years," said Donna Duncan, CEO of the OLTCA, in a press release.

"We need to focus on immediate solutions to protect our residents and the front-line heroes who care for them — then thoughtfully address the long-standing systemic issues COVID-19 has highlighted."

Duncan said staffing levels were already low before the pandemic, but a lack of personal protective equipment has exacerbated the problem by leaving workers vulnerable.

She also called on the province to continue prioritizing testing in long-term care homes and allowing for staffing flexibility through emergency orders.

Ministry reports 1,360 long-term care resident deaths

The request by the OLTCA, which represents about 70 per cent of the province's care homes, comes as Ontario reported another 391 cases of COVID-19 and 33 deaths.

The increase in cases represents a daily growth rate of 1.8 per cent, compared to an average growth rate 1.6 per cent in the three previous days.

There is now a total of 22,313 confirmed cases, including 1,858 deaths.

Long-term care homes have taken the brunt of the impact from the pandemic, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care has reported that 1,360 resident deaths are related to COVID-19.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care report uses separate data from the overall province-wide COVID-19 statistics.

A nurse wearing personal protective equipment looks out of a window at a long-term care home in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Merrillee Fullerton, the minister of long-term care, said earlier this month that a review would happen after the pandemic is through.

"Our gov has been clear: the system is broken. Long-term care has endured years of neglect," Fullerton said on Twitter last week.

"Once we emerge from this pandemic, we will get to the bottom of this."

Fullerton's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Government has enacted several measures

But the government has already enacted several measures to help the sector during the pandemic, including issuing an emergency order on Wednesday allowing it to temporarily replace management at some long-term care homes struggling to contain outbreaks.

The order allows the province to step in if a facility has a high number of infections or deaths, or if it's facing a staffing shortage.

The province said the appointed manager could be any person, corporation or hospital.

The province previously temporarily banned staff from working at multiple long-term care facilities for fear they were spreading the virus between them.

Long-term care inquiry launched in 2017

If the province goes ahead with a full inquiry into the long-term care sector, it won't be the first.

In 2017, a public inquiry was launched into long-term care homes after nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two of aggravated assault for her actions while working in the facilities.

She admitted to using insulin to kill her victims.

That inquiry focused on the circumstances that allowed Wettlaufer to commit her crimes undetected.

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