A judge who was once the provincial government’s lead counsel for the Walkerton contaminated water inquiry and who pursued the notorious Bre-X gold fraud case will lead Premier Doug Ford’s long-awaited commission of the deadly impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes, the Star has learned.
Frank Marrocco, Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, has been appointed chair of the three-member committee which includes Dr. Jack Kitts, recently retired President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital and Angela Coke , a former Deputy Minister who spent 27 years in the Ontario Public Service.
Ford will announce details of the commission on Wednesday and said he remains anxious to hear from families, medical staff and health experts on how the highly contagious novel coronavirus has taken over nursing homes – killing nearly 1,800 residents and accounting for two-thirds of the death toll in Ontario.
“It’s a real challenge when this virus enters these homes. It is going through there like an Australian bushfire and we are doing everything we can to ensure that it does not happen again, ”said Ford on Tuesday in Ajax where he announced the construction of a new 320 bed retirement home from here. the end of next year.
The government has been accused of over-preparing hospitals for a potentially overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients who have not materialized and of under-preparing nursing homes despite the promise of an “iron ring” of measures to protect vulnerable residents.
Eight health workers from nursing homes have also died, with unions of nurses and personal support workers blaming the lack of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as serious shortages. of staff and a lack of comprehensive inspections.
Ford said more PPE is now available as the province waits for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and a plan to improve staffing will be made public by the end of the week.
Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, a former family doctor, said nursing homes were understaffed as the pandemic approached, which also exposed the dangers of overcrowding, lax infection control and lack of integration with hospitals.
“This staffing crisis has been going on for decades and the neglect of the long-term care sector has been really deep over the past 20 years.
Several homes where Canadian Armed Forces medical teams were called in by Ford lost up to 80% of their staff to COVID-19 and attrition, as many workers feared for their own health, leaving them remaining colleagues in the trouble to provide adequate care.
A military report later detailed how some residents were not turned around for days or weeks and developed painful sores, were force-fed to the point of choking or left without food to the point of malnutrition, and left in dirty diapers and beds for hours or days, crying. to help. The province also issued orders for local hospitals to take over the management of 11 hard-hit nursing homes for 90 days to stabilize infections and staffing, sending SWAT teams to help with care, the cleaning and infection control.
The military report prompted Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé to launch his own investigation into how higher standards and more inspections could have saved lives in long-term care. The Ontario Patient Ombudsman is also investigating.
New infections continued in nursing homes on Tuesday, with one more resident and two other health workers testing positive, bringing those totals to 5,885 residents and 2,529 staff in recent months, according to the reports. figures from the Ministry of Health.
There were also 32 ongoing outbreaks in nursing homes on Tuesday, an increase from Monday. To date, there have been 387 outbreaks in the province’s 626 nursing homes since the start of the pandemic.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner called on the government on Tuesday to pass legislation guaranteeing every nursing home resident four hours of “direct care” per day – for food, dressing, grooming, grooming as well as necessities. medical.
This move, also long advocated by the New Democrats, would require an increase in the recruitment of nurses and personal support workers. The Ontario Long-Term Care Association has repeatedly warned that nursing homes are not ready for a second wave of COVID-19 that could occur at any time, while the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives calculated that additional funding of $ 1.8 billion per year is needed to hire more staff.
The Walkerton tragedy 20 years ago killed seven residents and sickened 2,300 when dangerous E. coli bacteria seeped into well water and spilled into the town’s water system. city. Dennis O’Connor, then a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal, conducted an investigation that lasted more than a year and found fault with poorly trained water system operators and lax inspections provincial government.
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His final report led to stricter laws on the protection of water resources, treatment standards, training and certification of water treatment plant operators, and incident reporting. Two brothers who ran the water system in Walkerton, a two hour drive north of London, have been convicted of falsifying well log entries.
As a result of the Walkerton investigation, Marrocco was implicated in the prosecution of former Bre-X chief geologist John Felderhof, who was later found not guilty of insider and investor trading. misleading, and a judge ruled that the lack of safeguards for prisoners makes solitary confinement unconstitutional. .
In the early 1990s, as an immigration lawyer, Marrocco represented the murdered fugitive from Wisconsin and former waitress of the Playboy Club Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek as she fought deportation after being captured in Thunder Bay. Marrocco was played by Canadian-born actor Victor Garber in Woman on Trial, a 1993 film about the case.