Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday May 4, 2021
Ontario government needs to wake up and make nursing homes a top priority
The people of Ontario didn’t need two new reports to tell them Doug Ford’s government was missing in action when COVID-19 hit the province’s nursing homes last year.
The deaths of nearly 4,000 long-term-care residents and 11 employees during the pandemic had already spoken for themselves. And that grim message amounted to a scathing indictment of governmental ineptitude at the highest levels.
Yet for all this, Ontarians really did need Friday’s report from the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission along with the one from Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk two days earlier. They’re essential for telling us what we should — make that must — do for the sake of the 115,000 of the province’s most vulnerable citizens who live in nursing homes today.
According to the commission, the Ford government was completely without a comprehensive plan to protect nursing homes when the pandemic hit. Then, not only was its response “slow, unco-ordinated and lacking in urgency,” it failed to heed the lessons of the first wave. As a result, more residents died in the second wave than the initial one.
For its part, the auditor-general’s report denounced not only the current provincial government but governments stretching back over a decade. Not one of them followed up on the recommendations made by an expert panel after the 2003 SARS outbreak to prepare long-term-care facilities for a future health-care crisis.
Not one of them addressed the concerns about the litany of long-standing weaknesses that had been identified in the nursing-home system. And so the province’s nursing homes, which consume seven per cent of the health-care budget, became pandemic disaster zones.
For some Ontarians, this may all sound painfully familiar, something they’d just as soon forget after they condemn the current government.
But these two reports are important for more than putting on the record a precise diagnosis of what went so badly wrong in the province’s nursing homes over the past year. Their greatest, and hopefully most lasting, value will be in the prescription they offer for what should be done now.
The best way forward will demand more funding, more and better-paid staff, an end to overcrowded wards, better coordination with the rest of the health-care system and — for goodness sake — a pandemic plan. Ontario also needs a new model for building and managing new nursing homes, and the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission came up with a promising proposal for one.
It recommends constructing new homes that are paid for upfront by private investors who receive a return on their capital with profit over time. However the homes will be operated and the residents cared for by a mission-driven organization. It could be public, not-for-profit or for-profit. But the sole focus of those running the homes must be the care of the residents and certainly not returns for investors.
What matters now is what the Ford government and the people of this province commit to doing with this and all the other ideas in these reports. Ontario Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton promised Monday to adopt many of the recommendations from the commission’s 332-page report. But what else could she say?
Governments and the public have notoriously short memories. Premier Ford will face many expensive demands for all kinds of changes coming out of this pandemic.
The only way to ensure Ontario’s nursing homes never experience another catastrophe like COVID-19 is to make the homes an absolute, non-negotiable priority. The government will say they are. But only the people of Ontario, the people who vote and pay taxes, can guarantee the government acts. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)