Commission: Ontario unprepared for pandemic, no plan to protect LTC residents

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Commission: Ontario unprepared for pandemic, no plan to protect LTC residents
Commission: Ontario unprepared for pandemic, no plan to protect LTC residents

Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 commission has released their final report on how the province and the long-term care sector handled the pandemic, and it’s not a passing grade.

The 322-page report says following the SARS epidemic of 2003, the province listened to reports calling for an overhaul to their pandemic preparedness plan. “For a time, those warning were heeded,” as the Ontario government prepared for the possibility of a pandemic.

However, as the years went by “pandemic preparedness ceased to be a priority.” More focus was given to emergency readiness with the H1N1 and Ebola public health scares. The report adds “by the time COVID-19 arrived, successive governments had allowed 90 per cent of the province’s stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) to expire and be destroyed, without replacement.”

The report adds that despite warnings from experts, “there was no plan to protect residents in long-term care.”

Among the recommendations the report suggests for long-term care operators include regular communication between staff, residents, and their families. It also suggests including a plan for predicting and responding to staffing shortages, give easy access to residents for their essential caregivers, and creating a plan to minimize transmission within the home itself.

As for the provincial government, recommendations for them include clearly defining the roles of the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care “in addressing health emergencies… and ensure that the safety of long-term care residents is reflected in any provincial emergency plan.” The commission adds that there needs to be co-operation and communication between all levels the long-term care industry and the provincial government.

The report even calls out Dr. David Williams, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, for his delay in ordering universal masking. Noting that Toronto hospitals implemented universal masking on March 24th, 2020, Dr. Williams ordered it nearly two weeks later. “Delay is deadly.”

Regarding the authority of the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the commission says their powers should have been determined and set in stone long ago. “A pandemic is no time to sort out the authority or jurisdiction of any public official, especially the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

The report gave particular focus to a “provincial pandemic stockpile.” The commission recommends that the Chief Medical Officer of Health “must be responsible for the province’s pandemic stockpile, and that the government should provide the funding for the entirety of this, including for all long-term care homes.

Other recommendations for the government include priority access to vaccines for residents and staff of long-term care homes, “clinically accepted rapid testing,” and to ensure that all pandemic plans are ready to go on short notice.

Long-term Care Minister Merilee Fullerton responded to the report in a statement, saying the province would be reviewing the recommendations carefully as they “incorporate them into our ongoing efforts to fix the long-standing issues that have challenged Ontario’s long-term care sector.”

“There’s no question that residents and staff at long-term care homes and their families were disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. As I said in my testimony to the commission, we cannot let their experience be in vain — and we won’t,” read the minister’s statement.

The statement added many areas identified in the report were consistent with their ongoing efforts to resolve the challenges facing the long-term care system.

Earlier Friday, Ford said he welcomed the commission’s report, as difficult as it would be to read.

“What happened in our long-term care homes, it was tragic,” he said. “And it was terrible. But most of all, it can never be allowed to happen again.”

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