As It Happens

Ontario 'doing everything possible' to help care homes combat COVID-19, says minister

An Ontario nursing home ravaged by an COVID-19 confirmed Tuesday that three more residents have died, bringing the total number of fatalities among residents to 12. 

Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care, responds to deadly outbreak at Bobcaygeon facility

Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, says the province is doing all it can to help nursing homes deal with deadly outbreaks of COVID-19. (Canadian Press)


An Ontario nursing home ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak confirmed Tuesday that three more residents have died, bringing the total number of fatalities among residents to 12. 

The outbreak has left those with family members at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont., feeling powerless. They are pleading for more protections to be put in place to keep care facilities safe. 

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, expressed to As It Happens host Carol Off her "deepest condolences" to all the staff, residents and families affected by the outbreak at Pinecrest.

Here is part of their conversation. 

What do you say to the patients at Pinecrest Nursing Home and to the families with loved ones in long-term care across the province? 

First to the families in Bobcaygeon, this is a tragic, tragic situation. ... I want them to know that I am doing everything possible. Our government is doing everything possible to stop this.

This is a beast, COVID-19, and it's a beast we collectively need to wrestle to the ground. It is going to take our collective might.

At least 12 residents of Pinecrest Nursing Home and one visitor have died because of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ian Handscomb, whose 85-year-old father Bill is at Pinecrest, he told As It Happens on Monday that he isn't "asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars" or "huge amounts of medicine," but is "asking for people to help these poor [personal support workers (PSWS)] and nurses to care for these folks." Minister Fullerton, what do you say to him?

I completely agree with him. And that as the minister of long-term care … I have said so many times exactly what he has said. 

Our residents deserve respect and dignity. And our staff deserves support. It is their dedication and compassion that allows our residents to be supported in our long-term care homes across the province. That is exactly why this tragedy stands out so much. 

Emergency orders [have been] put in place to allow homes to have more staffing so PSWs in homes can be supported and residents can get their care. Talking about the chief medical officer's recommendations and directives, we listened to his advice and his medical expertise. We go to him for the directive. 

To say that this COVID-19 is different from any other virus that we've ever seen is an understatement. 

Ian Handscomb, right and his mother Carol Handscomb, left pictured with his father Bill Handscomb, centre, a resident at Pinecrest Nursing Home. (Submitted by Ian Handscomb )

You call it tragic. You say it's a beast that we're trying to stop. But the question many people have, minister, is that is this something that was avoidable? Could you have prevented it, to some extent, given that we knew so much about what was happening to the elderly in Italy and China?

Our commitment is the safety and well-being of our long-term care residents in their homes and the staff and the families. [That's] absolutely critical.

I appreciate their priority. [But], minister, my question is what could you have done to mitigate this?  

We started immediately months ago with measures, including those new measures under the directive of the chief medical officer of health, including active screening. Then we moved on to essential visitors being allowed into the homes only. Certainly, we understood the hardship that this meant for families and residents. But we understood that it was a measure that had to be taken.

We then moved on to the emergency orders.

We changed the protocol for an outbreak to be a case of one so that we could direct all the protocols immediately. 

In the case of the home in Bobcaygeon, the outbreak procedures were directed by the chief medical officer of health [and] the public health unit. There's a management team there now to help with the staffing. 

Putting a lens on that particular situation because of the severity of it and understanding how we create more than what we're doing. And clearly, there are gaps.

I want to ask you how many homes have this situation in Ontario. The Globe and Mail have tried to find out how many long-term care facilities in Ontario have COVID-19. There's apparently no way to find out. ... They learned, [from] their own research, that there are 26 facilities with at least one case of coronavirus. According to your knowledge, how many long-term care homes at this point have identified the virus?

I just want to clarify that, initially, under standard protocols … three cases were considered an outbreak. That was changed by the chief medical officer of health a few days ago to create a protocol where one case is an outbreak. That means measures can be taken immediately. 

So my understanding, as of today, there are 23 homes. There may be, in fact, 26. I have the number of 23. But what's happening is there's a lag behind what is put out on Facebook or social media. [Under] our system, it has to be confirmed.

Certainly, our most vulnerable people are in the long-term care homes. They are much more susceptible because of the conditions and the complexity [of the facilities] nowadays. Our long-term care homes are very different from what they were like 25 years ago.

I'm very much about transparency and I really think people need to know right off what the situation is.

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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