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‘Next time, Ontario must be ready,’ concludes Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission

‘Next time, Ontario must be ready,’ concludes Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission
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Premier Doug Ford’s government was “slow” to react to impending and continuing threats from COVID-19, condemning thousands of vulnerable residents in unprepared nursing homes to “a parade of sickness and death.”

That’s the stark conclusion of the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, which issued a report Friday night with 85 recommendations and a warning that “another pandemic should be expected. Next time, Ontario must be ready.”

The advice includes: the need for comprehensive plans to deal with pandemics on a province-wide basis and all the way down to each of Ontario’s 626 nursing homes; providing better communication between staff and residents’ families; vastly improved infection control; and strategies to deal with staffing shortages that left too many homes unable to care properly for residents as COVID-19 “spread like wildfire.”

There is also a call for a “reimagining” of elder care in the province to avoid what some have called the “warehousing” of frail seniors in institutional facilities in favour of more friendly, home-like settings.

It’s the second report this week to hammer the government for its handling of the highly contagious virus in nursing homes, on top of decades of government neglect of the sector.

On Wednesday, provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk revealed results of her investigation that found found lax inspections, persistent low staffing levels and crowding leave homes vulnerable to future pandemics and outbreaks of infectious diseases.

“The province’s response was slow and reactive when the virus arrived and began to spread,” said Friday’s 319-page report from the three-member commission headed by Frank Marrocco, a former associate chief justice of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.

“Critical decisions came too late, and the government’s emergency response system proved inadequate to protect staff and residents from COVID-19.”

Despite news coverage from China and later Italy on how the virus was ravaging older people and congregate settings such as cruise ships, “there was no plan to protect residents in long-term care,” the report found.

A total of 3,918 nursing home residents died from COVID-19 and more than 15,000 have been infected, although the toll has declined dramatically since vaccinations took hold.

“I fully welcome this report because what happened in our long-term care homes, it was tragic and it was terrible,” said Premier Doug Ford before the report was released, although he did not commit to implementing its recommendations.

“I could stand here and point to 30 years of under-investment from government after government, Liberal and Conservative, but none of that matters …. I will not stand here and and try to make excuses or pass the blame.”

Ford has already committed to four hours of daily hands-on care for nursing home residents, up from about 2.75 now, by hiring 27,000 more nurses and personal support workers by 2025, a target date critics say is too slow.

Said New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath: “We need immediate action. The biggest piece of providing quality care is staffing.

“The commission paints a picture of years of neglect, followed by the devastating choices by the Ford government to cancel inspections.”

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, comes under criticism from the commission for not acting sooner last year to order all people in long-term care homes to wear masks, protecting each other in the spirit of lessons learned after the SARS crisis two decades ago.

“As the world learned more about the new virus, other jurisdictions began to take a precautionary approach to protect residents,” the report said.

“In many instances, Ontario lagged behind.”

It noted hospitals in Toronto began requiring “universal masking” on March 24, 2020, with Toronto long-term care homes following suit five days later on the advice of local health authorities.
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