We’ve Failed Long Term Care

By: Laura Steiner
The failures with Long-Term Care started with  Ontario Progressive Conservative government led by Mike Harris in 2002.  Harris eliminated legislation affecting care standards, and staffing ratios.
The Ontario Liberals who took over in 2003, under Dalton McGuinty compounded things.  He promised to re-instate a mandatory a minimum of 2.25 hours of daily nursing care, and failed to do it.  However, they did add an additional 4,890 frontline staff, including 1,100 nurses.  It was a step in the right direction.
His successor Kathleen Wynne had mixed successes as well.  In 2018, Wynne’s government announced efforts to bring 30,000 long term care beds online before 2028.  She introduced the Ontario Retirement Homes Regulation Authority to regulate the province’s retirement homes.   However in a mandate letter to Health Minister Deb Matthews in 2014 Wynne wrote: “You will transform and modernize the public service delivery while protecting vital services.  You will drive efficiencies and reduce costs in order to achieve our commitment to eliminate the deficit by 2017-2018.” It translated into a budget that year which, shifted the healthcare funding model from a provider-centered approach to a “more person centered, activity based approach.”
All COVID-19 has done is spotlight the failures, and the half-measures taken to fix past mistakes in long term care.  It’s not Premier Doug Ford’s fault.  But he is in control of the reaction, and potential actions going forward.  Which brings me to his own potential failure. A plan to open a new 30 bed “specialized care center in Scarborough that would serve long-term care residents in homes throughout the Greater Toronto Area that are in outbreak.
The last I checked, people can carry this virus without showing symptoms.  And as we know from the ever-rising case numbers, it’s spreading fast.  Is it really such a great idea to move people from homes in outbreak to a second building where they can spread infection without intending to? I’m not so sure.
I was able to email the Ministry of Long Term Care.  I asked them how they responded to the perception that the very act of opening the facility accepting patients from the GTA was a failure? They responded with the following non-answer:  “The government’s top priority from the beginning of this pandemic was, and remains, to protect the health, safety and well-being of our most vulnerable residents and the heroic staff who care for them” Spokesperson for Ministry of Long Term Care Mark Nesbitt said.
Admitting failure at this point is serving up the next provincial election to Liberal leader Steven Del Duca before it even begins.  But the failure wouldn’t be entirely Ford’s.  It falls in the laps of every government from Mike Harris, through to Kathleen Wynne.  It’s often said that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.  In this, we’ve failed them.  And that’s on all of us.