Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday July 17, 2020
Heavy lifting for long-term care awaits Doug Ford
In the 100-kilometre journey to deliver a decent long-term-care system for Ontario, Doug Ford took a baby step forward this week.
By offering a 10 per cent subsidy hike to private-sector nursing home operators who open new beds, the premier should rid the province of at least some of those disgusting, overcrowded, four-person wards that became death-traps in the COVID-19 pandemic.
That change alone represents welcome, if overdue, progress. Indeed, the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents 70 per cent of the province’s 630 long-term-care facilities, applauded the changes Ford’s making.
But there’s less in the government’s new funding formula than meets the eye. If the goal is rebuilding an entire long-term-care edifice, Ontario’s stuck at the stage of digging the new foundation.
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the serious, even shameful, deficiencies in a vital part of Ontario’s public health-care system. The province’s nursing homes have witnessed the deaths of 1,730 elderly residents and eight workers since the outbreak began in March. That’s almost two-thirds of Ontario’s officially reported COVID-19 fatalities.
The fact that the Canadian military had to be ordered in to save seven nursing homes that were overrun by the disease proved beyond any doubt that this province had turned a blind eye to grave systemic failings. The abuse, neglect, bug infestations, bleeding infections and the residents crying for help for hours that the army discovered should have no place in this affluent, supposedly caring country.
Correcting that, along with improving homes that if not as bad are beneath basic, acceptable standards, is a monumental challenge. What Ford did this week was simply provide new details about a previously announced $1.75-billion infusion into long-term-care facilities.
When that money was first committed, the government promised 15,000 new beds and renovations of 15,000 existing beds over the next decade. It’s unclear if that bold commitment still stands.
Ford did say this week that his new funding changes mean 8,000 new beds and 12,000 redeveloped beds are in the works. Air conditioning and improved ventilation is on the way for many nursing homes. Safer, more comfortable facilities will benefit nursing home residents and staff alike.
Left unanswered is how Ford plans to provide the 30,000 beds he originally pledged for the coming years. That’s a nagging question that will not go away. There are 36,000 seniors on the waiting-list for long-term care in Ontario. Ford needs to show us all his road map for moving forward.
He needs to say if his nursing home system overhaul will include providing more hands-on, daily care for residents. It should. And what about the personal support workers who provide such essential services? They receive miserable wages for a demanding job that offers minimal security. Ford needs to increase staffing levels but also the pay and working conditions for that workforce.
In addition, the Ontario government needs a detailed plan for improving the oversight of the province’s nursing homes. If Ford is content with allowing the long-term-care system to rely so heavily on private providers, he must ensure proper transparency and accountability. That could come from the independent commission Ford wants to investigate the system. But he has yet to say when that commission will begin its job.
Not every long-term-care facility does a bad job. Too many do. Ford has signalled that transforming the system is one of his highest priorities. But what he announced this week will raise red flags that suggest he’s content with superficial fixes. We need him to completely re-invent how we care for our elderly. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)