One step forward, one step back. The Ford government enacted plans this week to heighten restrictions on longterm care (LTC) homes in Peel and other COVID-19 hotspots, as the province grapples with rising case counts and an independent commission seeking answers to the outbreaks in the long-term care system.
General visits have been prohibited at long-term care homes in Peel, Toronto and Ottawa, while essential visitors are limited to one per resident, the province said Monday. In addition, local health units within each region will also be able to provide direction if an outbreak occurs, said Minister of Long-Term Care Merillee Fullerton. “We’re making changes to keep people living and working in long-term care homes safe, wherever they are in the province,”
Fullerton said during the announcement, indicating that the province would continue to monitor the situation and provide further information on policies affecting retirement homes in the coming days. The move comes after COVID-19 outbreaks in LTC homes caused the deaths of at least 1,953 residents and eight staff members, an independent inquiry heard last week. The Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, held by video conference and initially requested by the province this past summer, is investigating how the virus spread through the LTC system and what recommendations need to be taken in the future.
Residents and key representatives from major LTC organizations contributed their views regarding the outbreaks during the commission, which saw homes criticized for a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), significant staff shortages and a lack of oversight and communication. “We were concerned about our state of readiness,” Donna Duncan, head of the Ontario Long- Term Care Association, said during the commission last week. The association, which represents approximately 70 per cent of the province’s LTC homes, saw what was happening in hospitals in China through news footage and requested the province to have inspectors highlight shortcomings that could be vulnerabilities in an outbreak scenario, said Duncan.
The situation in the LTC system finally reached a boiling point when an internal report written by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was made public in May and outlined shocking conditions at some facilities within Ontario and Quebec, including 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.
Military units were brought in to backstop several homes in both provinces, while lawsuits were filed against LTC homes that saw some of the highest number of fatalities. While units were eventually recalled from the homes, many have continued to operate in lockdown, while the province pledged additional support to build new beds and outfit LTC homes with additional resources and support. “We won’t accept the status quo in our long-term care homes… I promise the families and residents that we will take action, and as Premier, I intend on keeping my promises,” Doug Ford said in late July, during an announcement to provide $1.75 billion in funding for LTC homes over the next five years. –