In an emotional address to the public on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said a report from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on long-term care homes in the province is “heartbreaking” and “horrific.”
“We knew these homes were having serious problems and needed help,” Ford said. “We didn’t know the full extent.”
“It’s gut wrenching and reading those reports was the hardest thing I’ve done as premier.”
The report from the military looked into five homes in the province receiving their assistance, Orchard Villa in Pickering, Altamont Care Community in Toronto, Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, Hawthorne Place in Toronto and Holland Christian Homes’ Grace Manor in Brampton. Shared by Brigadier-General C.J.J. Mialkowski, the information outlines detailed issues that came up at each of these facilities.
The report claims in some of these facilities there was “significant” fecal contamination, rotten food, cockroaches, and residents not being cleaned and bathed.
“It’s absolutely appalling,” Ford said. “These are just standard operating procedures to clean someone.”
“It’s so disturbing when I read this, it was heard to get though it.”
In terms of particular COVID-19 concerns, residents were able to wander around the facility, which increases the possibility of exposure to everyone in the institution. It also reveals staffing shortages and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The CAF also witnessed “abusive” behaviour, including “not stopping or slowing” when residents indicated they were in pain, pulling residents, and “degrading or inappropriate comments directed at residents.”
Other shocking claims from the military in these homes include:
Delayed changing of soiled residents leading to skin breakdown
Little/no regular turning of patients
Forceful feeding causing choking/aspiration or not assisting residents during meals
Food being left out of the reach of residents and underfeeding issues
Patients sleeping on bare beds to to lack of access to laundry and linens
Inaccurate reporting of residents’s status to family
Staff not changing PPE for several hours and between rooms or inappropriate use of PPE
Significant safety concerns regarding patient to staff ratios (ex. one registered nurse for up to 200 patients)
When asked why the provincial government did not know conditions were this bad in these facilities, the premier maintained his government did not fail the system but rather “saved a lot of lives” through its recent actions.
“I take full accountability for the system that we inherited,” Ford said. “The buck stops with me and I take ownership.”
“COVID-19 has exposed the deep, deep cracks in long-term care. It is up to us to face the hard truths that have been ignored for decades.”
Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, said these facilities have been the government’s “top priority” throughout the pandemic.
“We will continue to be transparent with the people of Ontario,” Dr. Fullerton said. “We have said all along that our long-term care system needs to be repaired.”
She said there has been “significant improvement” in the five homes since the report was released.
“As our population aged, as the staffing became more problematic into a crisis, just before COVID, that had been on my radar and as a minister of long-term care, I was looking to address that,” Dr. Fullerton said. “This is a national issue, this is something that everyone has known about for years, our population was aging, long-term care was ignored.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also commented on the information from the Canadians military.
“The horror seniors in these homes are being forced to live is inhumane,” a statement from Horwath reads. “It’s shocking that the Canadian Armed Forces needed to lift the veil, when Doug Ford and Merrilee Fullerton ought to have known about these horrific conditions, and did nothing to take the homes over.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, the provincial NDP Leader said these five homes “are not up to the task of taking care of our seniors” and she said this is likely “the tip of the iceberg.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had seen the “deeply disturbing” information from the report.
“There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action,” Trudeau said, adding that the federal government has offered support.
“We need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country through this pandemic and beyond,” the prime minister said. “This is a situation that has gone on for a long time, we need to take action as a country.”
On April 22, the Ontario government formally requested assistance from the military. Premier Ford has now requested to extend their current mission in long-term care for 30 days and called for additional assistance from the federal government.
“Support us as we move forward...we can’t fix it alone,” Ford said.
Out of 626 long-term care homes in Ontario, there are currently 150 experiencing an outbreak, with 1,855 cases in residents in the province. To date, 1,538 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19 in addition to six staff deaths.