Ontario Declines Long-Term Care Commissioner’s Request for More Investigation Time

Ontario Declines Long-Term Care Commissioner’s Request for More Investigation Time

Ontario has rejected a request by an independent commission asking for more time to complete its final report on the causes and prevention of COVID-19 spread in long-term care (LTC) homes across the province.

LTC minister Merrilee Fullerton says the deadline of the final report is still expected by April 30.

But the province’s long-term care COVID-19 commissioners, tasked by the Ford government to find out how and why the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus spread in the homes, said in a letter (pdf) to Fullerton that the reason for the extension is because they “continue to encounter significant delays in obtaining government information” central to their investigation.

“Most documents responsive to the Commission’s document summonses and requests remain outstanding,” said the commissioners in their Dec. 9, 2020 letter, while also attributing the delay to the large amount of data they expect to receive.

“We understand the rationale for completing the report as soon as possible. We are however, writing to inform you that we will not have completed the investigation in time to deliver our report by the intended date.”

Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton speaks during a daily press conference regarding COVID-19 at Queen’s Park in Toronto, Canada, on April 22, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

In her response to the commissioners on Dec. 23, 2020, Fullerton said there is still a great need for timely information to support the government’s ongoing work in handing the pandemic.

“The urgency of our situation has not changed,” Fullerton wrote in a letter (pdf). “The need for timely and focused advice is even more acute.”

She said the commissioners should focus on areas that require immediate action and highlight issues that warrant further government examination in their report.

As of Jan. 5, the province reported 216 LTC homes with active COVID-19 outbreaks, which represents 34.5 percent of all the care homes in Ontario. On a positive note, 257 LTC homes have their outbreaks resolved.

The virus has also infected 11,511 and killed 2,830 residents of LTC homes since the start of the pandemic, with 35 deaths reported on Tuesday. As for LTC homes staff, 4479 have been infected, with eight deaths as of date.

In their interim report last month, the commission said that poor leadership and accountability in LTC homes contributed to the outbreak.

“Poor leadership communication to staff, poor onboarding of new staff, inappropriate levels of supervision and concerns about the clinical skills and quality of care of residents as main contributors to the crises in those homes,” the report wrote, citing the observations made by the Canadian Armed Forces when they were assigned to LTC homes in Ontario.

On top of that, the report said that Ontario’s decision in the fall of 2018 to end the Resident Quality Inspections in all LTC homes, in favor of using a risk-based approach based on complaints and critical incidents in order to clear backlog, has resulted in the province not getting a full picture of the “state of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and emergency preparedness” to handle this pandemic.

The report also found that fines and prosecutions are rarely applied on home operators, leaving a lack of urgency to address violations.

On Dec. 17, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the province will launch a LTC staffing plan to recruit new hires, retain existing staff, and improve the working conditions. Fullerton, who was present at the press conference with Ford, said their plan is to solve the “long-standing and systemic challenges the sector has faced after decades of neglect and underfunding.”

The province announced Tuesday that it plans to vaccinate all residents, health care workers, and “essential” caregivers at LTC homes in priority regions of Toronto, Peel, York, and Windsor-Essex by Jan. 21.

With files from The Canadian Press

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