WELLINGTON COUNTY – Over 19,000 people from across the province joined a Jan. 29 online protest to demand action from the provincial government to help long-term care residents.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) hosted the Zoom protest, which featured over 20 speakers, including the leaders of the provincial NDP and Green parties, to talk about COVID-19 and other pandemic related issues facing long-term care centres.
Understaffing, testing backlogs, over-crowded rooms and insufficient infection control provisions, are all problems the OHC said the provincial government needs to address.
“We are calling for the government to improve the safety requirements in the homes, and to hold long-term care home owners, particularly the for-profit sector, that has demonstrated such negligence, such disregard for human life, during this pandemic and before, to hold them accountable,” said OHC executive director Natalie Mehra.
“People have recoiled in horror at what they are seeing in the homes, and we are asking you today to take action to help save our seniors.”
Every hour a long-term care resident in Ontario is dying as a result of COVID-19 and declined care levels in the homes, states an OHC press release.
“The humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding in our long-term care homes is a preventable tragedy and this virus – it prays on the vulnerable,” said Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario.
He added he doesn’t believe the flaws in the long-term care industry are just a result of the pandemic.
“The system is broken. It’s been broken for years, but we can’t allow the Ford government to use that as an excuse to not act now, and to not be accountable for the way in which they haven’t improved the system over the last two years,” said Shreiner.
“They dropped the ball on inspections, they delayed hiring more staff, they spent more time protecting LTC operators from lawsuits than actually solving problems, they failed to call in the military when it’s clearly needed and more people are dying.”
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece said the Conservative government is doing what it can to help the situation many long-term care homes are facing right now.
He noted the province has invested over $1.3 billion to help residents and staff of long-term care homes, including over $6 million to homes in Perth-Wellington.
“The government has no greater responsibility than to protect the people of Ontario, especially those in long-term care,” said Pettapiece in a Feb. 2 interview.
“I will continue to advocate for every resource necessary to support them.”
Family members of several long-term care residents, including Kristin Hunter of Guelph, spoke during the Jan. 29 protest about how their family members are impacted by the pandemic.
Hunter’s father, John Hunter, is 65 years old and in a long-term care home in London facing dementia, heart disease and diabetes.
Her father and 54 other residents in the home contracted COVID-19 over the past few weeks.
“Thankfully my dad has been successful in battling the virus with minimal symptoms; his comprehension on what is happening around him has proven to be the most challenging,” said Kristin.
“He doesn’t understand what COVID-19 is, he does not know that he is infected, he doesn’t understand why we can’t visit, and he has no idea why there is so much chaos happening around him.”
Locally, many long-term care facilities have had outbreaks – and several of them have had more than one.
The most serious outbreak in Wellington County since the start of the pandemic is the current one in the long-term care side of Caressant Care Arthur.
Since being declared on Boxing Day, the outbreak has grown to 56 resident cases, including 11 deaths, and 56 staff cases.
On Jan. 13, the province announced North Wellington Health Care (NWHC), which operates hospitals in Mount Forest and Palmerston, was taking over management of the Caressant Care long-term care portion facility to help get the outbreak under control.
Since then, the facility has reported 82 new cases and nine deaths.
“When any health care facility experiences a COVID-19 outbreak and staff are off sick, you can quickly run into challenges,” said Stephen Street, CEO of NWHC.
Street said that as part of an acute care organization, it is difficult for him to say what the government needs to do to help long-term care homes deal with the unprecedented situation.
But Street added he supports any positive change in the quality of care long-term care residents are receiving.
Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement Homes spokesperson Stuart Oakley declined to be interviewed for this article.