Ontario's neglected long-term care sector needs sweeping reforms to protect its vulnerable residents, an independent commission has found, pointing the finger in a scathing report at governments past and present for thousands of COVID-19 deaths at the province's nursing homes.
"Many of the challenges in the long-term care industry over the decades - chronic funding, severe staff shortages, outdated infrastructure and poor oversight - have contributed to the risky consequences for Ontario's most vulnerable citizens during epidemics", the commission wrote.
The commission said poor facility design and resident overcrowding heightened sickness and death in the nursing homes, with almost 4,000 residents and 11 staff dying of COVID-19 by the end of April.
The 322-page report says following the SARS epidemic of 2003, the province listened to reports calling for an overhaul to their pandemic preparedness plan.
"The Auditor General issued a clarion call for change and the response from the Ford Government was to blame everyone else, take no responsibility, and change nothing", said Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition.
"You know, I think the government measures and processes, we were trying to move fast for government".
There were "problematic" enforcement practices by the Ministry of Long-term Care. "How many reports do we need?".
Almost 4,000 families across the province have lost loved ones in long-term care to COVID-19.
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"Staff were crying before, during and after work, vomiting in locker-rooms from stress and watching residents they love dying in great numbers", he said, summarizing some findings outlined in the report.
In Question Period later on Monday morning, NDP leader Andrea Horwath told Fullerton that staffing levels in most long-term care homes at lower rates than they were at the onset of the first wave of the pandemic, and criticized the government for pledging to increase the standard of care in homes to four hours per day, only by 2025. Our almost 400 members are located across the province and include not-for-profit, charitable, and municipal long-term care homes, seniors' housing, assisted living in supportive housing and community service agencies. Five staff members had also died of COVID-19 at that point.
Even after the commission was launched - and after it released two interim sets of recommendations _ the virus continued to tear through the facilities.
In all, the report said, the commission heard from more than 700 people. "But most of all, it can never be allowed to happen again".
Fullerton said they did all they could as fast as they could, but it was not enough.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 1,050 new cases in Toronto, 819 in Peel Region, 286 in York Region, 158 in Ottawa and 157 in Durham Region.
The head of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, meanwhile, said the report is a step in the "journey to reimagine seniors' care".
Earlier Friday, Ford said he welcomed the commission's report, as hard as it would be to read. "Unfortunately, neither the Ministry of Long-Term Care, nor the long-term-care sector was sufficiently positioned, prepared or equipped to respond to the issues created by the pandemic in an effective and expedient way".