Coronavirus: Ontario long-term care head warns of ‘real urgency’ ahead of 2nd wave

The head of the association representing Ontario’s long-term care homes is warning there is “real urgency” for the homes to address the issues exacerbated by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic before a potential second wave hits.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Donna Duncan said the way that the pandemic tore through some long-term care homes made things the industry already knew were a problem much worse, and put a spotlight on what needs to be done to prevent a repeat.

“Our issue is, what are the root causes that we actually have to be focused on right now? That is PPE, testing, looking at alternate accommodation,” said Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association.

“We need to get out ahead of that and make sure our homes are well supplied across the country.”

READ MORE: Military teams raise concerns about conditions at Ontario care homes

There have so far been 94,310 coronavirus cases in Canada and 7,702 deaths.

Long-term care and seniors homes are linked to more than 80 per cent of the coronavirus deaths in Canada and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned last week that an “explosive” second wave of cases is “a distinct possibility.”

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Many long-term care homes across the country though have been ravaged by the coronavirus as it spread between residents and staff, with many workers holding down jobs at more than one care home.

Ontario and Quebec called in the Canadian Forces in April to assist in caring for residents in homes where staff simply could no longer cope with demands for care.

But military members quickly became alarmed at the conditions in several of the homes — five in Ontario and 25 in Quebec, in particular — that they said in a report amounted to neglect and abuse.

The concerns cited cases described as “blatant disregard” for infection controls along with “horrible” mistreatment of residents that members called “borderline abusive, if not abusive.”

READ MORE: Up to 9,400 coronavirus deaths in Canada by June 15, new modelling suggests

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the conditions laid out in the report “deeply disturbing.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province was taking over five long-term care homes in light of the concerns and has pledged an independent investigation into the matter.

Long-term care homes are not included as an essential service under the Canada Health Act and there are no national standards for the level of care required in them.

Duncan didn’t say whether she thinks the operators of the homes cited in the reports should face punishment but said the association has “zero tolerance for abuse and neglect.”

She said while they are working to find solutions, problems like a lack of staff remains a critical issue.

“There’s real urgency to this,” Duncan said on the need for more staff and finding alternate accommodations so multiple residents aren’t housed in the same room.

“If we don’t have employees, I don’t know how we’re going to manage. We had a critical staffing shortage before this. It is acute now. It is exponentially acute.”

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