Ontario NDP calls for much broader public inquiry into 'broken' long-term care system

Ontario's probe into the circumstances of the Elizabeth Wettlaufer murders should include a broad range of issues plaguing the province's long-term care facilities, the NDP leader said Wednesday.

Public inquiry into Elizabeth Wettlaufer murders is only the beginning, NDP leader says

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday that consecutive governments have failed to act on recommendations made in numerous reports on long-term care in the province compiled over the last decade. (CBC)

The Ontario NDP called on the province Wednesday to expand the scope of a public inquiry into the eight murders committed by former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer — and study the effect that the growing population of seniors has wrought on the long-term care system.

Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for 25 years in a Woodstock, Ont., courtroom on Monday. She had previously pleaded guilty to killing eight patients in long-term care facilities where she sometimes worked as an overnight supervisor between 2007 and 2014.

Shortly after the trial closed, the provincial government committed to an independent public inquiry to probe the circumstances surrounding the killings.

"I think all three parties agree that the Wettlaufer case needs to be dealt with as an initial phase of this inquiry," said Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath. 

"What we're saying is, 'Don't stop there.'"

Horwath made the comments at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. She was joined by two women navigating the long-term care system with their mothers, as well as a seniors advocate.

"We believe the scope of the public inquiry needs to be increased, it needs to be a very broad scope. This is our chance, this is our opportunity," Horwath told reporters.

There are currently 78,000 people in long-term care across Ontario. About 30,000 more are waiting to find a bed in a facility. Years-long wait times and substandard care has brought the province under intensifying pressure to address ongoing problems in seniors' health care. 

Horwath highlighted Ontario's growing demographic of seniors, a trend that will amplify problems in coming years. 

Walkerton could be a model for inquiry

She said that the public inquiry should include issues like staffing and bed shortages, lack of attention to patients and residents, unsound hygiene practices and a host of other emerging concerns including violence among patients and residents. 

Horwath pointed to the inquiry into the Walkerton, Ont., water crisis as an example, which was expanded to probe water safety across the province.

There are 78,000 Ontarians in long-term care facilities, and about 30,000 more waiting to find a bed in a home. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

In its announcement Monday, the provincial Liberal government said it wanted to ensure that long-term care residents "are safe in their homes."

The women who joined the NDP leader to tell their stories, however, said that immediate action is needed if the government wants to uphold that promise.

"Where is there a long-term care home that actually takes care of people, so that [the family] does not need to be there, six hours every day?" asked Mira Bazzul, a Toronto resident whose 89-year-old mother is struggling with dementia in a Sudbury facility. 

She and her sister rotate on a two-week schedule of attending their mother, who needs help eating, washing and caring for herself. 

Long-term care system is 'broken'

Donna Corewyn told the story of trying to have her mother transferred to what she felt was a better care home. She said she was told by staff in the system that the best chance at having her mom moved would be to "take her out of care for 21 days" and try to re-enter her as a "crisis patient" in the hope she would get a bed at a new facility. 

"This is something that's happening everywhere, from one part of Ontario to the other," Howarth said. "The system is in such a crisis, our long-term care system is so broken, that it doesn't matter which home you're in."

She added that an NDP government would call a broad independent inquiry into long-term care within 100 days of forming government. 

Howarth's call is being supported by Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Elderly (ACE). She told CBC Toronto earlier this week that her organization would like the inquiry to include:

  • The actions of long-term care staff.
  • The long-term care home inspection process.
  • The ability of the provincial College of Nurses to investigate and discipline its members.
  • The coroner's office and its investigations.
  • Funding and governance of long-term care homes.
  • The duty of third parties to report possible crimes.