Adam: This time, Premier Doug Ford must act on long-term care

The COVID-19 tragedy has left little doubt that the current model under which investment companies operate long-term care homes for profit has failed.

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Ontario’s Long-term Care COVID-19 Commission has exposed the staggering failure of the provincial government to protect seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, but nothing in the report should really come as a big surprise.

Over the years, numerous studies, media investigations, caregiver accounts and home inspection reports have revealed severe failings in long-term care, and most of what the commission laid out, in excruciating detail, was already well documented. But successive Ontario governments just didn’t care enough to take any action. These were frail people in the waning moments of their lives and governments simply parked them in homes and turned a blind eye to their suffering. Out of sight, out of mind.

But now, with his own blue-ribbon panel calling for sweeping reforms, Premier Doug Ford has to act. The task before the government is this: implement all the recommendations of the commission to ensure that what befell long-term care homes during the pandemic never happens again. Ontario elections are only a year away, and if Ford doesn’t act quickly, the opposition parties should make this a ballot issue so Ontarians can decide. The 3,760 seniors and 11 health workers who have lost their lives so far from COVID-19 deserve no less.


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Ford of course didn’t create this calamity all by himself. It has been decades in the making, and governments before him are culpable. But Ford didn’t make things any better when he came into office. He continued the neglect of predecessors, and it was no surprise that when the pandemic struck, his government was totally unprepared to deal with it. “Without an established, practised plan in place, the government found itself making up its emergency response,” the commission said.

Everyone in the line of duty — the premier, the health minister, the long-term care minister, the chief medical officer of health and the operators of the homes — all failed seniors and the province. The question now is where we go from here.

The commission has given Ontario a clear path to a better future for seniors in care. At the heart of it all is a call for a new model that focuses primarily on care, not profit. “Care should be the sole focus of the entities responsible for long-term care homes,” the commission said.

The tragedy in long-term care homes has left little doubt that the current model under which investment companies operate long-term care homes for profit has failed. This isn’t about any antipathy towards the private sector. It is about the failure of the model in seniors’ care. With 58 per cent of the province’s licensed long-term care homes privately owned, the private sector would continue to play a big role in care. There’s no way around it. But we can’t excuse its failure.


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Consider what the Ontario COVID-19 science table said in a report: “Homes with for-profit status had outbreaks with nearly twice as many residents infected and 78 per cent more resident deaths compared with non-profit homes.” If public institutions running homes had this appalling record, people would be demanding changes, and justifiably. The private sector should be held to the same standard. The companies responsible for these failures and the people behind them have not been held accountable by the government in any way, leaving grieving families to take civil action. They can’t be allowed to feel untouchable because in time they will return to the same practices that got us here.

The commission wants the government to ensure that companies that build long-term care homes are not also involved in delivering the care. “It is difficult to see how one can build a culture of excellence in care when care is a means of profit on the infrastructure and hoteling,” the panel says. “The government should separate the construction of long-term care facilities from the care provided in those facilities, recognizing that those skilled at the former may not be appropriate for the latter.”

The commission has given the government a new blueprint, and Ford should grab it with both hands. There can be no excuses this time.

Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at: nylamiles48@gmail.com


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