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Premier tired of taking Bullet? OPSEU helped Premier dodge bullet in long-term care crisis

Warren (Smokey) Thomas in a blue suit standing at a podiu
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Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on claims from Premier Doug Ford that OPSEU blocked government inspectors from visiting long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic:

It’s unbelievable how government managers are keeping the Premier in the dark about what has happened in long-term care homes.  Today they inserted their collective foot in the Premier’s mouth.

The Premier’s claim that OPSEU told occupational health and safety inspectors and long-term care inspectors to not go into the facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic is utterly untrue.

Managers in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term care are purposely misleading the Premier to cover up their own incompetence that covers decades of inaction.  Inaction that has cost thousands of lives of our most vulnerable citizens. People who helped build this province and make it what it is today.

We never told our members not to go into long-term homes. There was never one work refusal. Managers gave direction not to enter the long term care homes.

In a letter I sent to the Premier and Minister of Long Term Care on April 22, a letter that has still gone unanswered, we advised them not to send inspectors into the facilities because there was no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), no infection control protocol, no policies, no training and no pandemic planning in place.  We were concerned that inspectors could have potentially and unknowingly spread COVID from home to home. Imagine the scenario had all 626 homes been impacted.

In the letter I also pointed out that: “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.”

In essence we raised some of the same concerns the military did, about long-term care albeit a month earlier.

In the same vein, further evidence of our warning is where I go on to point out that “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.”

OPSEU flagged the problem for the government in this April 22 letter. We spent weeks trying to get PPE for our inspectors.  Now that they have limited access to PPE, they are carrying out inspections in those homes where it is available. 

Imagine for a second the terrible tragedy that could have happened had the inspectors gone into the homes without proper safeguards, especially given what we now know about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.  The death toll could have been even worse than it already is.

The Premier says he is tired of taking bullets for the union, but in this case our prudence helped him dodge one.

At one point this spring, inspectors were asked to volunteer to go into the homes, even though they were concerned for their own health and the welfare of residents because they didn’t have the appropriate equipment.  Some 60 of the 164 inspectors responded. Further evidence of their commitment.

The real problem is that there are only 164 inspectors to cover some 626 long-term care homes.  Inadequate staffing is yet another area where ministry managers have failed to give the Premier and the Minister of Long Term Care the real facts. We have consistently pointed out that shortcoming as well.

Sun Media columnist Brian Lilley recently said heads need to roll in the ministry and we agree with him.  This latest bureaucratic smokescreen covering up bad management is further proof of that.

The Premier has a choice:  If he listens to front-line workers through their union, OPSEU, he can get the truth about what is going on in long-term care and what he needs to do to make things right.

Or he can listen to this dreadful gang of blundering, incompetent and dishonest ministerial managers who care more about looking out for their careers than looking out for seniors in long-term care homes who have given us so much and have been failed by bureaucratic self-interest. Many of these managers have presided aimlessly for years, even decades during this disaster in the making.

I want to reiterate that we never tried to stop our members from onsite inspections, the only thing we wanted to do was to ensure the inspections were done safely.  We wanted a cautious and prudent plan in place before our inspectors were sent in.  Lives counted on it. Because of our approach, lives were saved.

If the Premier is interested in the truth and solutions, OPSEU is ready to meet with him anytime.

In fact, I look forward to further shining a light on this travesty as a witness at the upcoming inquiry.

A lot of players aren’t going to like what I have to say.

For more information:  Warren (Smokey) Thomas: 613-329-1931