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Letter to Premier and Minister Fullerton, Re: COVID-19 and long-term care

Dear Premier Ford; Minister Fullerton,

The deadly scenario playing out in Ontario’s long-term care facilities with COVID-19 is terrifying and preventable. For a province that has been more than equipped to provide proper funding for a strong public sector, we are now instead seeing the results of years of neglect.

Case in point: Long-term care inspections. While over-worked and frustrated, inspectors remain dutifully committed to their obligations amidst this pandemic. They continue to investigate what needs to be done to flatten the curve and save lives, despite the fact only 164 inspectors are on the job supporting 626 homes. Increased staffing levels are needed now.

Thankfully, much, if not all, of the inspection work happening now is being done by phone, providing a measure of safety for inspectors, long-term care home staff, and residents. But we now understand that your government wants to have in-person inspections. Thanks to the low staffing levels and the inherent risks to multiple parties from such inspections, this plan is not only ill-advised, but not necessary. In-person inspections will not provide us with any more information than we already have.

The problems have been identified over and over again. Front-line health care workers have told inspectors that much more must be done to flatten the curve. Residents are not receiving the care that they need in some of these homes. We know that private long-term care home providers never had a plan for this level of illness within their facilities. And that’s the inherent issue with privatization.

This Ministry of Long-Term Care needs to listen to the front line. It has no plans to keep inspectors safe. It was initially indicated that inspectors were to ask the homes they visit for PPE when they arrive. Most inspectors are not trained nurses. In fact, they have various levels of training and experience and often do not have any specific infection control or PPE training. Senior ministry staff have also stated inspectors need to physically see if residents are being treated properly. We already know they are not. Senior bureaucrats know it too. The homes need more staff and equipment. Risking the health of residents and inspectors has zero value right now.

The government must send long-term care homes the proper medical infrastructure to help them cope and recover – people, unlike inspectors, who have the ability to help on-site. Provide more support staff, move patients who are mobile, cut agency staff who work at multiple homes. What’s needed now is a plan. What’s needed now is action.

OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas