Refusing to apologize for what a scathing report called Ontario’s “slow and responsive” response to the deadly threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton says ‘she did not expect’ a 100-year pandemic against an unknown virus. “
Fullerton blamed previous governments for the poor state of the nursing home system in his first public comments since the COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission – appointed last summer by Premier Doug Ford – released its report final Friday night.
“We were trying to go fast for the government and COVID-19 was going faster,” the former family doctor said at a press conference on Monday, pledging to address long-term care issues and speed up decision-making.
“I think, collectively, as a society, we need to do some soul-searching and understand why it took a pandemic to resolve the capacity issues in long-term care, the staffing issues in long-term care,” Fullerton replied when asked if she would apologize to the thousands of families devastated by the debacle.
“The lives of peoples must not have been wasted in vain. This must be the tipping point. “
The commission found that “critical decisions came too late” and that an “inadequate” emergency response system made nursing homes more vulnerable than they should have been, paving the way to “a parade of disease and death” that killed nearly 4,000 residents and a second wave more deadly than the first.
These late decisions included mask warrants for nursing homes, slow recognition of signs the virus could be spread by people without symptoms, and a 12-day deadline to bring military medical teams to nursing homes. hardest hit nursing after Fullerton first noted it was needed. .
The report noted 26 residents who died in a nursing home – not from COVID-19, but from “dehydration and the lack of staff to care for them … they died when all they needed was needed. was water and a wipe. “
Fullerton did not comment when asked when she knew residents were dying of neglect, but the admitted homes could turn into “war zones” within days.
“My heart goes out to all who have been touched. It was a war… our long-term care homes were on the front lines.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said Fullerton missed the mark by failing to acknowledge the government’s failures.
“An apology is badly needed … it starts with accountability,” he added, calling on the province to accelerate its plan to provide residents with four hours of hands-on care by 2025 by hiring thousands of nurses and nurses. additional personal support workers.
Fullerton would not commit to following the commission’s 85 recommendations to better prepare nursing homes for the next pandemic or infectious disease outbreaks, but said some were already being implemented – such as the ” improved links with hospitals and better infection prevention and control.
“Many of the recommendations require further investigation and I will be providing regular public updates on our progress,” she added, noting that some restrictions on nursing home residents may be relaxed later this week.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Fullerton’s response and deflection continued the “lack of urgency” the Ford administration has shown in the fight against COVID-19, such as the slowness of the imposition of restrictions that allowed the third wave to take hold.
“The government’s failure was clear.”
As Ontario heads to the polls next June and the campaign is set to begin exactly one year from now, caregiver representative Vivian Stamatopoulous said, “I’m just praying that this is a big electoral problem.
“We are still at consistently low staffing levels,” she added. “The only thing that has improved in nursing homes is mortality from COVID-19 and that is only because of the vaccines.”
Fullerton couldn’t tell when the low-paid personal support workers who do the bulk of resident care, such as grooming, feeding, dressing and grooming, can appraise the recommended permanent increases. in the report as a way to attract more into the industry and slow high rates. attrition.
She encouraged nursing homes to provide counseling to staff and residents traumatized by situations such as residents left for hours or days with dirty and malnourished diapers and staff having to seal deceased residents in body bags without appropriate personal protective equipment.
But there is no obligation for nursing homes to do so despite the commission’s recommendation that each facility “bear the cost of this counseling … no part of that cost should be passed on to residents and staff. “.
Horwath reiterated his call for a full public inquiry into the long-term care debacle, saying most of the commission’s work was conducted in private. She noted that the government provided her with a plethora of documents last winter without enough time to go through them properly before Friday’s deadline to release the report and plead for an extension that Fullerton rejected.
Schreiner went further, saying a full public inquiry was also needed into how the Ford government handled the entire pandemic, not just in nursing homes.