Union calls for public and criminal investigations into deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care homes

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Union representing thousands of Ontario health workers is calling on the province and local police to launch a public and criminal investigation into the deaths from long-term care related to COVID-19.

Announced Tuesday, the surge appears to be the first major call for a public inquiry in the country, as the new coronavirus continues to spread to hundreds of long-term care homes.

In Ontario alone, more than 1,000 residents and several front-line staff have died in more than 200 outbreaks in these homes.

“A commission is urgently required because until we have a vaccine, or at least a treatment available for the entire population, we must now prepare for consecutive peaks or waves of COVID-19,” said said Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare, in a statement.

The union represents more than 60,000 health and community service workers in Ontario.

The union requests:

  • A provincial government public inquiry into the increasing number of deaths of residents and front-line workers in long-term care homes should be ordered immediately.
  • Criminal negligence investigations by Toronto and Peel regional police into an as yet unknown number of long-term care homes and home care providers.
  • An investigation into the deaths of the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, calls on the province to launch a public inquiry into the deaths in long-term care homes related to COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

“We leave all the stops”

When asked about the request for an investigation, Premier Doug Ford reiterated that his government is doing “everything” in its power to help long-term care homes: “We are doing everything we can.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott added that the province is focusing all its efforts on supporting these homes, and the two officials noted a number of measures the government has taken, such as banning most visitors and the recruitment of outside workers to assist, including the military.

“We will continue to take these measures until these epidemics are under control,” said Elliott.

So far, nearly 3,000 health care workers in various settings, including long-term care homes and hospitals, have tested positive for the coronavirus. These workers represent almost 16% of all cases in Ontario.

Two hospital cleaners and three personal support workers have died in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, SEIU Healthcare held a memorial and rally outside the Midland Gardens Care Community in Scarborough – where so far no cases have been reported – in honor of personal support workers who died after have worked in long-term care.

“Both front-line workers and seniors in our long-term care system say the same thing: keep us alive,” said Stewart.

“This is why we are calling for urgent investigations that will keep people alive and hold negligent operators responsible for the deaths of our health heroes. “

91 recommendations

Ontario’s long-term care sector has been the subject of a recent safety and security investigation; linked to the crimes of the serial killer and former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer.

The investigation was completed in 2019. A final report made 91 recommendations, many of which related to increasing funding and staffing of institutions in the province, given their “systemic vulnerability.”

A key recommendation asked the Ministry of Long-Term Care to conduct a study to determine adequate staffing levels for day, evening and night shifts – and to report on this study by July 31, 2020.

As of February, the province had implemented 18 recommendations, including several related to drug safety, although critics at the time warned that many important recommendations had yet to be implemented.

“I look forward to seeing not only what emerges from future work on this topic, but general improvements to the system … some of which may come from COVID,” Samantha Peck, executive director of the rights group, told CBC. Family Councils Ontario. New.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was escorted from the Woodstock, Ontario courthouse on January 13, 2017. (Dave Chidley / Canadian Press)

Investigation “too early”, warn some

As for the latest call for an investigation, Peck said it was still “too early,” given what families living in the long-term care system are going through.

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, agrees.

“I don’t think our goal should be to launch a public inquiry while we are fighting the fire,” he said.

However, while 20% of nursing homes in the province are fighting COVID-19 outbreaks, he noted that the people of Ontario – including the families of residents and health care workers – are looking answers.

“We need to understand why things happened the way they did and if there are things we could have done to stem the level of death,” said Sinha.

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