Provincial Update: It’s time for justice in long-term care

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre

Every morning I walked into work the first week of May, I thought of a personal support worker coming off a night shift somewhere at a long-term care (LTC) home. 

Why? Because of the report from Ontario’s Long-Term Care Commission that had just dropped. The report is the third document in recent months that condemns the Ford Government’s handling of COVID-19 in LTC homes, notably in for-profit homes.   

As one report noted: “We know the first cases of COVID-19 were found in four LTC homes on March 17 of last year. From March 2020 to the end of the year, 76 per cent of LTC homes in Ontario reported cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff. As of today, 3,918 residents and 11 long-term care staff have died with the illness in Ontario, according to provincial data.” 

What was the Ford Government’s response? Merilee Fullerton, the LTC Minister, spent most of the week blaming others.

“We were overdue for a pandemic,” she said. 

Pardon me?

“Government co-ordination takes time”, she continued, “and it just wasn’t a match for the speed of COVID-19. There are many lessons learned from wave one, wave two and there will be lessons learned from wave three.”

That’s nonsense, from start to finish. The governments of BC and Quebec took a different approach as one wave of COVID-19 led to the next. They were able to protect PSWs, LTC residents, and other care workers.

But in Ontario, the interests of for-profit LTC homes came first. 

Toronto Star analysis noted, “the financial statements of Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living and Chartwell Retirement Residences shows that in the first three quarters of 2020 (ending Sept. 30), these for-profit companies collectively paid out nearly $171 million to shareholders at the same time they received $138.5 million through provincial pandemic pay for front-line workers, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program or other pandemic funding.”

As David Milstead of the Globe and Mail reported, Chartwell, which operates 23 LTC homes in Ontario, paid out more in executive bonuses in 2020, the year COVID-19 came to Ontario, than it had the year before. 

Not one private LTC home has lost their license, and they are all fully funded until the end of August 2021. We can and must do better than this. 

It’s time to implement the recommendations of the Long-Term Care Commission, including raising wages and benefits for PSWs so their compensation is comparable to the hospital sector. We also need a four-hour minimum daily care standard so every resident gets the quality care they need. Finally, we need to take profit out of long-term care, so every dollar invested in the system goes towards care, not dividend payouts or executive bonuses. 

What happened in long-term care homes last year can never be allowed to happen again. Let’s overhaul the system to put the well-being of residents and workers before profits. 

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