In response to growing concern about the state of long-term care homes in the province, and after an especially damning report from the CBC, the Ontario government announced changes to how the COVID-19 pandemic is being managed in places where so many in our most vulnerable population lives.
“We will do everything we can to protect our seniors and most vulnerable citizens because we all know they are most at risk during this pandemic,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement Wednesday. “Our three-point action plan builds on the measures we have already taken to fortify that iron ring of protection we have placed around our long-term care residents and those who care for them.”
The three points are aggressive testing, screening and surveillance; providing additional training and support for long-term care home workers to manage the outbreak and stop the spread; and redeploying staff to augment the number of people available to respond at long-term care homes as well as pushing “intensive” recruiting efforts to hire new staff.
This announcement comes on the same day the CBC published an investigative report that revealed only nine of Ontario’s 626 long-term care homes had received their regular annual inspection in 2019.
While the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care did 2,800 inspections last year, the vast majority of them were initiated based on specific complaints versus the so-called resident quality inspections (RQIs), which are more thorough and unannounced. Compared to 2017, when 85 per cent of homes were inspected with RQIs in that whole calendar year, only 60 per cent of homes have received an inspection in 2018 and 2019.
Further, the report drew a connection between nursing homes that have seen gaps in inspections and facilities that have suffered the worst outbreaks. For instance, Pinecrest in Bobcaygeon where 29 residents have died, and Seven Oaks in Toronto where 22 people have died, were both last inspected in June 2018. Worse still, Eatonville in Toronto with 27 deaths, and Anson Place in Hagersville with 19, both had their last RQI inspection in 2017.
Here in Guelph, facilities have not been immune from the outbreak of COVID-19 albeit much less severely. There was some good news on Tuesday when Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health announced that the outbreak at the Rosewood Unit at St. Joeseph’s Health Centre was declare over, but at the same time new cases were discovered at the Ashley/Elmwood Unit, as well as the Strathcona Long Term Care home in Mount Forest.
According to Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, there have been 34 institutional outbreaks in their three areas of coverage. Of those, 10 are in the hospital and four are in intensive care.
Back at Queen’s Park, the government said that they will also be providing testing for asymptomatic residents and staff, enhanced guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and enhanced training and education for support staff working in homes where there are outbreaks. The Province will also be doing risk and capacity assessment at all homes, and they will be stopping personal support workers from being able to work in more than one facility at a time for the duration of the pandemic.
“We must continue to act to stop the spread of this virus in our long-term care homes,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care. “Nothing is more important than protecting the health and well-being of our loved ones in long-term care, or the front-line heroes who care for them.”
But the government is still being criticized even after this aggressive action has been announced. Specifically, the new restrictions on PSWs don’t go into effect until April 22, which theoretically gives workers an extra week to spread COVID-19 between their places of employment.
“Every day counts when limiting the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a media statement. “I urge the government to use approved contingency funds to help long-term care facilities comply with this directive sooner.”
“Ontario cannot wait another week to act,” he added.
The number of COVID-19 cases that are being monitored by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is now up to 162, with four fatalities, and 38 resolved cases.