The Honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
The Honourable Marrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
May 29th, 2020
Honourable Premier and Minister Fullerton,
We, the undersigned as individual clergy and religious leaders, from a broad range of faith communities throughout Ontario, are endorsing this letter written by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.
Each of us, and the religious institutions we are part of, are responding to the many ways in which COVID-19 has affected Ontario residents.
While faith communities are finding new ways to worship online, as we engage in social distancing, our concern is growing about the needs of those we care for through pastoral care and outreach. Those on the margins – the impoverished and the elderly – have been especially hard hit through this pandemic.
We express our appreciation for your overall leadership during this time of crisis. However, we are gravely concerned about the tragic impact the pandemic has had on long term care homes. While we acknowledge that the problems in long term care extend back over a series of governments, your government’s failure to take appropriate action prior to the outbreak has undoubtedly contributed to the current consequences.
In particular your government has failed to:
- fully implement the recommendations from the Gillese inquiry and especially those related to staffing increases
- follow up on the unanimous vote on Second reading on Bill 43 during the previous Parliament to implement the minimum daily average of four hours of hands on front line nursing and personal care
- increase funding to meet actual need, let alone by increases in the cost of living and in acuity
We note with appreciation your promise to establish a Commission to conduct a review of the province’s long-term care system. While we would have preferred a full Public Inquiry to review the entire impact of COVID-19 on the Province, we agree that the situation in long term care is so extreme that it requires more speedy attention. We do urge you to establish the broader public inquiry once we have emerged from the main impact of the pandemic.
This pandemic has caused tremendous damage, not just in the loss of life and the physical impairment to those infected survivors, but also trauma to their family members and the general public. The establishment of the Commission and the conduct of its mandate, will have to meet a high standard for the public to be able to restore their trust in long term care and confidently arrange for their family members to be admitted into these homes.
Membership and Mandate
The Commission and its staff must be fully independent of home operators and other special interests. The proceedings and records of the Commission must be completely open and transparent and it must collect timely and relevant documentation, from residents and their family representatives, front line workers and their unions and other community advocacy groups as well as from the academic community, in order for the public to be confident that real change will be made in the Long Term Care program.
The scope of the Commission needs to consider the severity and concentration of the COVID-19 outbreak in long term care homes, with a view to ensuring that this kind of tragedy can never happen again.
We are sadly aware that COVID-19 was not the first indication that the delivery of Ontario’s long-term care has serious systemic flaws.
- There has been ongoing understaffing and a failure to deliver the amount of care residents need.
- There is a chronic shortage of workers of all classifications willing to work at these homes.
- The extensive use of part-time staff has resulted in many care workers finding it necessary to seek and secure additional part time positions at other homes.
For-profit long-term care homes have had a much higher incidence of infection and death. (Toronto Star article: For-profit nursing homes have four times as many COVID-19 deaths as city-run homes, Star analysis finds)
We look to the Commission to develop better standards, enforceable staffing regulations, and an improved funding formula. All these will be needed to enable the public to have confidence that family members admitted to these homes can live the remainder of their lives in decency and respect.
The establishment of the Commission, however, should not delay the immediate implementation of measures to reduce the tragic consequences of COVID-19 now while the current outbreak continues to run its course:
- Better infection control including better access to PPE.
- Ramp up testing using our province’s full public capacity.
- Transfer to hospitals those residents who cannot be properly treated in long term care homes.
- Bring in family caregivers and retired nurses as soon as possible.
- Address the chronic critical understaffing in long-term care by finally implementing the long promised minimum of an average four hours of hands-on frontline nursing and personal care and by mandating Employers to provide the same total hourly compensation to part-time employees that is provided to their full-time counterparts.
Public Access to Information
To ensure that there is transparency of information about the current impact of the pandemic in our long-term care homes, the Government should immediately post on its public website;
- accurate and consistent data for each home on the number of infections,
- the number of deaths, and
- the staffing levels by shift and classification of front-line nursing and personal care personnel,
so that families can, even in advance of the outcome of the Commission, make more informed decisions as to which home to seek admission to for their family member.
We look forward to hearing from you that you will accept our requests for the composition, mandate and process for the Commission and that the identified interim remedial relief measures are being implemented.