For a second day, Ontario’s long-term-care minister refuses to say sorry
|Toronto Star 04 May 2021 at 19:52|
Ontario’s long-term care minister lashed out at critics trying to hold her accountable after two independent reports found the province was slow to respond to the deadly threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes.
For the second day in a row, Merrilee Fullerton refused to answer when she knew seniors were dying of neglect and dehydration in facilities desperately short of staff, and rejected calls to apologize for a death toll of almost 4,000 residents in long-term care.
It was a year ago March when Fullerton stood with Premier Doug Ford and promised an “iron ring” of protection around nursing homes, “which we all know never happened,” New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said during a tense exchange with Fullerton in the legislature Tuesday. A couple of weeks later, in mid-April of last year, the province called in Canadian Armed Forces medical teams to help in the hardest-hit long-term-care homes. They arrived at the end of the month.
“She actually said in this House that they were moving quickly and responsibly, literally while the Canadian Armed Forces were finding people dying of neglect,” Horwath said in reference to a finding in Friday’s that 26 residents in one home died for lack of water, not the virus.
Fullerton evaded a question on when she knew about that, calling the NDP leader’s criticisms “unfounded” and “bordering on obscene.”
“Any loss of life in these circumstances during this pandemic has been tragic,” Fullerton said, adding that COVID-19 was a “rapid threat,” and pledging to improve conditions after decades of underinvestment in nursing homes.
“This minister tried to save the Ford government and save her own reputation instead of saving people in long-term care,” Horwath said. “How can anyone expect this minister can fix things when she can’t even admit to her mistakes?”
A clearly angry Fullerton shot back, blaming Horwath — whose party has not been in power since 1995, and who frequently urged the previous Liberal government to improve hours of care and staffing in nursing homes — for not doing enough to champion the cause.
“Look at your failure. I was left to pick up the pieces from a devastating 15 years of neglect,” Fullerton said of the Liberal rule. “I will not be spoken to that way by the leader of the Opposition, who neglected this sector.”
Horwath later told reporters that the minister has “an obligation to take questions, to explain to the public her role in allowing 4,000 seniors to lose their lives in horrifying conditions in long-term care.”
“That’s why we’re calling for her resignation.”
Fullerton — who last week drew flak for saying “we didn’t start the fire” in long-term care — would not take questions from the media Tuesday.
Liberal House Leader John Fraser faulted the premier, who was slated to emerge from self-isolation Tuesday night after a COVID-19 exposure from an infected staffer, for keeping silent on the commission’s report.
It was the second of two reports last week — the other was from Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk — that found a slow response and a lack of nursing home inspections by the Ford government worsened the death toll in long-term care, in addition to years of neglect from previous administrations.
“For the premier not to be able to respond to this report, and for the minister…not to take any responsibility whatsoever, is unfair to those families” who lost loved ones in long-term care, Fraser said.