Photo and Story By: Surjit Singh Flora
A long-term care centre in Brampton is one of five in the province facing “gut-wrenching” conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, an internal military report revealed this week.
The report, written by Canadian Armed Forces Brigadier-General C.J.J. Mialkowski, has revealed a laundry list of harrowing conditions inside several long-term care facilities, including Grace Manor in Brampton, Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke, Orchard Villa in Pickering, Hawthorne Place in North York and Altamont Care Community in Scarborough.
The list of allegations include improper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff and doctors; staff reusing gloves or not washing hands between resident interactions; the presence of insects; repeated use of medical equipment without being disinfected and residents calling for help with no response for up to two hours.
The report also outlined disturbing revelations at several of the sites, including cockroach infestations, residents who were forcefully fed and COVID-19 positive patients allowed to wander the halls, though it did not mention which specific sites had those problems.
“It was so disturbing … It was the worst report, the most heart-wrenching report I have ever read in my entire life,” Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday. “It’s shocking that this can happen here in Canada. It’s gut-wrenching.”
The report prompted strong reactions and harsh criticism from opposition parties after its release, with Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath demanding immediate action to take over long-term care in the province. “When the COVID-19 pandemic raged in long-term nursing homes, it was not good enough for Mr. Ford and his government to sit down for several weeks… thousands of seniors and staff in many other facilities across the province are still at risk. “
Following the release of the report, the province announced late Wednesday that it would also be taking over management of an additional five homes, including Camilla Care Community in south Mississauga, which has been hard-hit, suffering 61 deaths since the onset of the pandemic. In comparison, Grace Manor has seen 11 deaths since the pandemic began.
“We’ve already taken over two homes because we had concerns, and now we are moving to take over these five homes,” he said during a press conference late Wednesday.
Ford said that the province would use “every tool at our disposal” to tackle the conditions outlined in the report.
Long-term care inspectors will spend two weeks conducting an expanded investigation of each of the homes, and will develop a specialized plan with provincial monitoring, random checks and status calls.
Last month, Ford called for military assistance to five long-term care facilities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. After reading the report, Ford said it was now apparent that the system was not working effectively.
Ford and Minister of Long-Term Care Merillee Fullerton also said Tuesday that the province would be looking at coroners’ reports on nursing home deaths in case criminal charges are warranted.
Ford called the military report “a wake-up call to our entire country,” and said he did not know the extent of the five nursing homes’ problems in the military report.
Although the troops are obliged to report abuse and abuse to the military command system, or if they are nurses or doctors, they must have their own health certification agencies. The Ministry of Defense declined to comment Tuesday, saying that the Ontario government is responsible for the agency.
“On reading the alarming report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, sadness, frustration, and grief,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a daily COVID-19 update press conference on Tuesday. “It is extremely troubling, and as I’ve said from the beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care across the country through this pandemic and beyond.”
Trudeau also said the report underscores the need to improve care standards for seniors in long-term care homes across the country and said the federal government will support the provinces’ efforts to do that. Long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction.
Ford is now calling on the Canadian Armed Forces to extend its mission for another 30 days, while Fullerton announced an independent commission into the long-term care system, which is planned to convene in July.
When asked why it took military intervention to expose long-term care conditions even though families, nurses, and other care staff have reported malpractice in the past, Fullteron did not answer directly.
However, she said she’s been aware of how broken the long-term system has been and COVID-19 “tipped the homes struggling with staging already right over the edge.”