While Premier Doug Ford announced more details of Ontario’s independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 commission on Wednesday, local long-term care home operators hope the commission will look beyond COVID and address the systemic issues that have plagued long-term care for years.
Some were critical of the government’s stated reasoning behind starting the commission.
“They said the long-term care system is ‘broken.’ We think the sector has done a good job, as a whole, dealing with COVID-19, while obviously there were some issues in some homes,” Bill Krever, chief executive officer of Victoria Village Manor in Barrie, told BarrieToday. “I hope (the commission) really addresses the systemic problems – especially in terms of government resources – rather than just looking for scapegoats due to the COVID outbreaks.”
“Why were we surprised there would be outbreaks in congregate living settings?” he added.
The commission, planned to begin in September, will review the province’s long-term care system, particularly the deadly impacts and widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.
Three commissioners will investigate how COVID-19 spread within long-term care homes, how residents, staff, and families were impacted, and the adequacy of measures taken by the province and other parties to prevent, isolate and contain the virus.
The commission will also provide the government with guidance on how to better protect long-term care home residents and staff from any future outbreaks.
The final report is expected by April 2021.
Systemic problems Krever hopes are addressed through the commission are a lack of funding and staffing sector-wide.
“A lot of the outbreaks were in older homes with four beds to a room. I think that’s because the province hasn’t really done a lot about rebuilding those homes that are more than 20 years old," Krever said. "If those homes had been rebuilt, there’s a good chance there would have been fewer deaths."
Locally, Krever says the biggest issue facing long-term care isn’t necessarily related to COVID.
“I think the biggest issue... is better resources for staffing. Both better resources for more staff, and increased resources to raise the pay levels of PSWs (personal support workers),” said Krever. “It’s a critical role and they’re just not paid enough under the current system so there’s not enough staff available to provide the quality of care everybody would like to see.
“We need enough people in the homes to do the work. If the staffing levels are so low that everybody is overworked and underpaid, it’s hard to attract people to the profession,” he added.
Krever said that he hopes there isn’t a long delay in the actions that come out of the commission.
“We’re hopeful this will lead to more adequate resources in the sector. Hopefully, it can shine a light on that,” he said.
Jane Sinclair, general manager of health and emergency services with the County of Simcoe, serves as chair of AdvantAge Ontario, which represents 36,000 long-term care residents across the province.
“I am pleased that the Ontario government is looking into the impacts of COVID-19 on staff, families and relatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on many seniors living in Ontario’s long-term care homes and we are deeply troubled by this,” Sinclair told BarrieToday.
“The health and well-being of our residents is our priority, and so we welcome transparent investigation as a way to hold government and providers to account and reassure residents and families of the quality of long-term care in Ontario," she added.
Sinclair agreed with Krever that the issues facing Ontario’s long-term care system are due to years of government inaction and, had the government stepped in earlier, it’s likely many of the long-term care issues brought on by COVID could have been prevented.
“This sector requires immediate attention by this government. Seniors living in Ontario’s homes need to feel safe and well cared for, and their families need to trust that their loved ones are protected and receiving the best possible care,” she said.
At the county’s four long-term care homes, Sinclair said recruitment is worked on internally as there is a shortage of qualified applicants.
“The retention and recruitment of staff within the health-care sector remains a significant issue across the province, particularly as the demands on staff related to COVID-19 have increased,” she said.
Overall, Sinclair is optimistic about the outcomes of the commission.
“I am hopeful that the... commission will be able to investigate the impact of these shortages on the level of care provided and help us to ensure the sustainable workforce required to continue to provide the high quality of care that our seniors deserve,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, Ontario will continue to move forward with system improvements while the work of the commissioners is underway.
According to Public Health Ontario, 1,793 long-term care residents died with COVID-19, which is 65 per cent of all the coronavirus-related deaths reported in Ontario. Eight long-term care health workers also died.
To date, there have been 5,885 cases of COVID confirmed in long-term care residents and 2,529 cases confirmed in health-care workers employed at long-term care homes.
There have been 387 outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care homes in Ontario so far.
According to the Ontario government, 78,000 people live in 626 long-term care homes across the province and there are another 38,000 people on the wait list for a long-term care bed.