THUNDER BAY - Following the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on long-term care in Ontario, health care and seniors advocates, family members, and workers are calling for nationalized standards to ensure a higher quality of care in homes.
“We are not asking for the sky. We are asking for care that meets the needs of the residents,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director with the Ontario Health Coalition.
The Ontario Health Coalition held a virtual protest on Tuesday during a national day of action calling on the provincial and federal governments to set national standards for long-term care.
Speakers included advocacy groups, personal support workers, and family members of those living in long-term care.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 3,700 long-term care residents have died as a result of COVID-19.
“This is the worst collective mass casualty event in Canadian history,” said Dr. Vivian Stamatopolous, co-founder of Candians4LTC and professor at Ontario Tech University.
“I am here to tell our prime minister this is not good enough. We don’t need another committee telling us what we already know. We need legislative standards now. We need to do better. This isn’t good enough. We want meaningful legislative standards and we want them now.”
Throughout the online protest, family members shared heartfelt stories about how their loved ones were left in isolation and without care during outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.
Sandra Caleta, founder of Advocates for LTC Reform and Voices for LTC, lost her mother six weeks into the pandemic. She said her mother did not die from the virus but rather because her needs were not met.
“It breaks my heart every single day that a full year later I have to hear the same thing from families and staff every single day,” she said. “How can we not do better for our most vulnerable members and those who care for them? This is something all Canadians should be ashamed of.”
“We want the action that we have been promised well over a year ago. It’s time. We are done waiting.”
Others shared stories of family members going days without being bathed, left isolated in rooms, and not receiving adequate levels of care. Personal support workers also shared their experiences of being overworked and overwhelmed due to ongoing staffing issues at homes across the province.
“It’s a human rights tragedy the likes of which we have never seen in this country,” Mehra said.
Frustrations were directed at the provincial government, who promised changes to long-term care after hundreds of outbreaks during the first wave of the pandemic and a scathing report by the Canadian Armed Forces.
“We are furious. The Ford government promised with tears after the military report that things would fundamentally change, but they didn’t do it,” Mehra said. “At the provincial level is they don’t want to pay the money to improve the care level.”
It is estimated that Ontario needs at least 37,000 full time nursing staff and personal support workers in order to provide a safe level of care for all long-term care residents.
“There is no plan to get us there. The staffing levels are lower than we have ever seen before,” Mehra said. “Not one home has been fined. Not one. Not even the very worst of the homes during the pandemic.”
There were also calls on the federal government to provide more funding for public and non-profit long-term care homes to eliminate for-profit homes, as well as to replace the accreditation process for long-term care, which Mehra said is not transparent and does not represent nationalized standards for care.
Mehra added that the actual death toll from COVID-19 in long-term care is likely much higher, as many more were likely lost due to isolation and neglected needs.
“They are not just statistics,” said Catherine Parks, whose father died in Orchard Villa in Pickering, Ont. and co-founder of Candians4LTC. “They are people who are loved and missed. We can’t let numbers and graphics distract us from the loss. Every death is a heartbroken family.”