To the editor:
Reading that 60 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 are in Ontario’s Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities is frightening, and reminds me of my grandmother, and our family’s need to seek safe care for my great aunt. It was a daunting task that still haunts my family. Like so many other families, we hadn’t anticipated the complexity of finding alternative living arrangements for my relatives not living out their golden years in their own homes.
In the search for a place in Ontario, we were introduced to the world of LTC to which we had been blind. Factors such as daily number of diapers, staffing ratios, weekly versus daily bathes and diet quickly became topics of family discussions. We learned about the differences between private versus public, profit versus non-profit, unionized versus non-unionized and the importance of full-time versus part-time staff. Many places visited were clearly underfunded. Residents may spend their whole day in one big TV room to make supervision easier for overworked staff. We saw rooms being divided by sheets, patients lacking clothes, meals being forgotten, just to name a few.
The journey was an eye opener.
My grandmother is my great aunt’s primary caregiver. In her 80s herself, it was an especially daunting task to make it to the facility on some winter days, let alone dressing up with a mask and heavy face shield. To try to alleviate this, and for her physical health, I taught my grandmother how to use Zoom. Despite some very helpful staff, it simply did not feel the same for either of them and it was difficult for my great aunt to comprehend what was happening, often forgetting who she was talking to. Luckily, they have both finally been vaccinated, and are still able to have visits for the time being. I fear that with rising numbers of cases and deaths in LTCs however, and provincial delays on vaccination, they will not be able to share their last moments together, in-person.
It should have come as no surprise that COVID-19 would wreak havoc in many of these facilities. Reviewing what this government has done and not done to prevent the predictable large-scale outbreaks makes me angry.
The Ford government’s decision to eliminate sick leave provisions early in its mandate has had a horrible outcome and accelerated the virus spread. Poorly paid workers, like most PSWs, may be forced to show up at work even when ill. Shockingly, the Ford government had practically eradicated the number of facility inspections as well.
Despite Premier Ford’s faux outrage in the spring, little has been done to address the systemic problems. Inexplicitly, the Ford government passed legislation to shield long term care homes from lawsuits. I can’t help but believe that Ford’s decisions are based on self-serving purposes rather than concern for our elders.
COVID-19 relief funds for LTC facilities have come with no strings attached. There are no directives to increase the notoriously low wages thus making it difficult to attract needed additional workers. Doctors in Ottawa recently reported on a part time PSW living in a homeless shelter.
After receiving $157 million in federal and provincial relief funds, two large for-profit operators paid out $74 million to their investors. The difference in the death rates between for-profit and non-profit LTC homes reflect the consequences of profiting from caring for our most vulnerable.
As the COVID 19 cases soar, the situation for our seniors worsens. I call on the Ford government to put our seniors’ health and safety above the convenience and profits of LTCs.
Bay of Quinte Provincial Liberal Candidate