COVID-19 is once again coursing through the province's long-term care and retirement homes.
New statistics show what the opposition and health experts say is a crisis point, with massive amounts of long-term care staff sick with COVID-19 and record numbers of outbreaks in some parts of the province.
With hospitals, which provided support to long-term care homes in earlier waves, swamped at the same time, it's leading to calls for the provincial government to call for military aid to get through an extraordinarily challenging time.
The numbers paint a bleak picture. Over 3,600 long-term care workers throughout the province currently have COVID-19. In Ottawa there are record numbers of outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes, combining for over 50 facilities altogether. At four municipally-run long-term care homes a whopping 77 staff are currently infected. There was an increase in 21 long-term care outbreaks throughout the province day-over-day, to bring it to 311, and there's over 1,900 active resident cases.
"I don't know what more we can do at this point and I have never felt this hopeless at this entire stage of the pandemic. I don't know what we can do to help," said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care advocate and associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University who added that this situation was wholly predictable in early December, noting that she made appeals at the time for how Omicron would affect long-term care facilities.
She slammed the government for not doing more to protect the homes, including prioritizing boosters for long-term care staff early on, making N95 masks the standard for everyone, doing more frequent rapid testing and more.
While residents are well-vaccinated, and 59 per cent of staff have received their boosters, the Omicron variant still poses significant risks; nine long-term care residents died yesterday. But Stamatopoulos emphasizes that there are additional risks that aren't seen in the COVID-19 reports. Because this wave has so severely hit staff, she said it means standards of care won't be met, so the non-COVID-19 needs of vulnerable residents will fall through the cracks, and that can mean significant health consequences.
The desperate situation in long-term care homes saw the opposition parties say that no tools should be left on the table, and that includes calling in the military to shore up staffing needs.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should "absolutely" call in the military given the situation. "I don't think any any solution can be set aside, I think every possible solution needs to be explored and undertaken."
And she lay responsibility on the government for not doing enough to build staffing flexibility in long-term care homes. "But we shouldn't be here. We didn't have to be here. We remember when Quebec hired 10,000 PSWs that first summer," she noted. "We remember what B.C. did. They hired seven or eight thousand new PSWs back the summer before last to try to start shoring up their long-term care systems. Doug Ford did squat, and the crisis in front of us now is one that could have been, I think, at least reduced by the government having done the right thing all the way along."
“I have never seen anything like it.”
Some homes have staff absences of 20-30%.
Recruiting internationally educated nurses will help, but won’t be enough.
Military assistance is needed ASAP.https://t.co/7MFVW1gDGT
— Nathan Stall (@NathanStall) January 13, 2022
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca offered a similar roadmap. "The crisis in our nursing homes is tragic, and especially disturbing considering how long we have had to build the so-called 'iron ring.' We need to take immediate action on shoring up staffing levels, including calling in the military to support the fifth wave response, repealing Bill 124, and offering PSWs the support and compensation they need to stay in their field."
The Ministry of Long-term Care said that it took "swift action" in December to get ahead of Omicron. "We anticipated the Omicron variant would have an impact on long-term care and took swift action in mid-December to protect residents and staff. Since then, Ontario has taken aggressive measures, becoming one of the first jurisdictions in the world to make fourth doses available to long-term care residents and mandated third doses for all staff, students, volunteers, caregivers and support workers," stated ministry spokesperson Ann Doose.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ontario has invested an additional $1.33 billion in long-term care homes, the majority of which has been spent on staffing. The ministry is in regular contact with the homes to address any staffing shortages and works with Ontario Health, local public health, hospitals, and community agencies to address immediate needs."