Incident management table mandate extended
The government has extended the mandate of its Incident Management System Long-Term Care Table, which is made up of health-care professionals who help co-ordinate the province's response to issues like staffing levels, infection management and resources in facilities.
Premier Doug Ford said the government is “sparing no expense" in its bid to fix the systemic issues that have plagued Ontario's long-term care system for decades.
The table was convened in April, and meets daily. Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton listed a number of positive signs in nursing homes during the pandemic, despite the blistering report from the Canadian Armed Forces released Tuesday.
Since May 1, the number of low-risk green homes has increased from from 356 to 547 homes, and the number of high-risk red homes from 35 to 19, she said.
Fullerton also said the inspectors announced yesterday have arrived in the five homes outlined in the army report. She also listed the hospitals that will take over management at the four private homes mentioned in the report:
- Trillium Health Partners will manage Camilla Care
- Unity Health Toronto will manage Eatonville
- North York General will manage Hawthorne Place
- Scarborough General will manage Altamont
OPSEU and phone inspections
The Ford government has taken heat, since even before the armed forces report came out, for cutting back on the number of comprehensive inspections in long-term care, and conducting some Ministry of Labour inspections by phone. But Ford said on Thursday the reason some inspections weren't done in person is because the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) wouldn't go in — something OPSEU's president denies.
“I’ve been taking bullets every day for the union up here," Ford said. “The truth of the matter is, they were refusing to go into these homes.”
The premier's office released an April 22 letter from OPSEU President Smokey Thomas saying in-person inspections are "not only ill-advised, but not necessary," since in-person inspections would only confirm what is already known: that residents are being treated poorly by the facilities.
"Senior ministry staff have also stated inspectors need to physically see if residents are being treated properly," Thomas wrote, adding that a lack of personal protective equipment put inspectors at risk. "We already know they are not. Senior bureaucrats know it too. The homes need more staff and equipment."
Ford said he likes Thomas, and understands why inspectors were "scared" for their health and the health of their loved ones.
“But I’m not going to continue taking bullets for something that there was no control that we had, when the unions refused to go in," he said.
But Thomas said it was ministerial managers, not the OPSEU, who directed inspectors not to go into homes. The April 22 letter asks the province not to send inspectors — it doesn’t constitute a work refusal, he said in a statement.
“Imagine for a second the terrible tragedy that could have happened had the inspectors gone into the homes without proper safeguards, especially given what we now know about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission. The death toll could have been even worse than it already is,” Thomas said. “The premier says he is tired of taking bullets for the union, but in this case our prudence helped him dodge one.”
Bureaucrats “are purposely misleading the premier to cover up their own incompetence that covers decades of inaction,” he said.
Thomas added that OPSEU essentially “raised some of the same concerns the military did, about long-term care albeit a month earlier” regarding lack of PPE and generally poor care for residents.
Asked why the government wasn't able to find anyone who would go in to inspect the homes, Ford said they were trying hard to get more staff inside — including hospital staff, public health officials and volunteers.
“We were throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this,” he said.
Now, OPSEU inspectors are going back to inspecting homes, thanks to Thomas's leadership, Ford said.
Fullerton added that in some countries, long-term care homes were totally abandoned by staff. "That didn't happen here, fortunately."
Won't somebody please think of the investors
Ford had a terse response to a BNN Bloomberg reporter who asked what he would say to people who invested in private long-term care companies like Sienna Senior Living, which owns Altamont Care Community — one of the facilities named in the armed forces report on the horrible conditions in some nursing homes. Sienna made $669.7 million last year — but its shares, and those of other private long-term care companies, have been falling in recent days after Ford said folding them into the provincial health-care system is on the table.
"Should these investors expect these big publicly traded companies to sacrifice profit for quality of care?" David Georde-Cosh asked.
"What they should be doing is doing their job — protecting the seniors," Ford said. "You want to invest in a company? Then make sure the company's run well. Any of us that are listening right now, you buy a stock, you have to do your due diligence to make sure that the product is good. And on these homes, specifically the ones the Canadian Armed Forces were in, they failed. And I would expect, as a shareholder, to start holding the CEO and chair accountable. That's what happens in the real world. You put a lousy product out there and something happens to your product, well they have to be held accountable. Because guess what, we're going to hold them accountable."
Ford said the government has not had any discussions that he's aware of about taking an ownership stake in struggling nursing home companies.
Later, the premier called for "more regulations" in long-term care — the opposite of what his long-term care minister said the government was doing in November, when she tweeted that "the build-up of red tape can interfere in the ability to deliver high quality care for residents in #LongTermCare," and that the PCs were "working to reduce regulatory burdens and administrative barriers" in the sector.
“I’ve always been about cutting red tape and regulations, but when it comes to long-term care we have to have more regulations.” — Premier Doug Ford, just now. https://t.co/hi2z9D04dx
— Jack Hauen (@jackhauen) May 28, 2020
"Nothing drives me more crazy than these big corporations saying no, we're watching dollars and cents," said Ford, who leads a party with strong ties to the private long-term care sector. "And if they want to be greedy and make money, then get out of the business. Go find something else to do. Don't put people's lives in jeopardy."
Some guidelines on reopening
After three days of the number of new COVID-19 cases falling below 300, Ontario had 383 new cases on Wednesday. Health Minister Christine Elliott said that was partly due to the first stage of reopening businesses, but also some cases in long-term care.
The government will keep an eye on the number of new cases, she said, adding that "if we start going back into the 400s and 500s, then we're going to know that we need to be a little slower in opening up stage two."
But Elliott said she and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams "both feel relatively comfortable" with the uptick, since they knew it would be a side effect of reopening the economy.
Happy birthday, mayor
Ford wished Toronto Mayor John Tory a happy 66th birthday today, after he was done taking questions from reporters.
"Oh — my last thing: happy birthday to the mayor. It's Mayor John Tory's birthday and I want to wish you a happy birthday, mayor. All the best."