Group calls for military intervention in Ontario long-term care homes

People protest outside the Tendercare Living Centre long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. This LTC home has been hit hard by the coronavirus during the second wave. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A non-profit that represents health-care professionals and patients called Friday for military intervention to help control outbreaks of COVID-19 in Ontario's long-term care homes.

Redeploying the Canadian Armed Forces to the hard-hit facilities is not the Ontario Health Coalition's first choice, the group's executive director said, but short-term options are scarce.

"The issue is that we're in such an emergency," Natalie Mehra said. "There are so many homes with outbreaks that are growing extremely quickly, the death counts are mounting, and the hospitals are overstretched now."

Mehra said hospitals are treating a worrying number of patients, and some are experiencing outbreaks of their own.

As of Thursday -- the most recently available data -- the province was reporting 1,235 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 337 in ICU. The same day, the province said there were 187 long-term care homes experiencing active outbreaks of COVID-19.

North York General Hospital, which has taken over management at Tendercare Living Centre in Toronto, said 52 residents have died due to an outbreak at the home.

The Toronto long-term care home has seen 122 residents and 56 staff with COVID-19, with 78 active cases remaining in residents as of Thursday.

Meanwhile, an outbreak at The Village at St. Clair in Windsor, Ont., has sickened 115 residents and 74 staff, and has been linked to 24 deaths.

When the military was deployed to seven long-term care homes in the first wave of the pandemic, it came out with a damning report that included accounts of aggressive feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections and residents crying for help for hours.

It was the first time the Forces had been called upon for such a deployment, Brig.-Gen. Conrad Mialkowski has said. He led the two-month mission that began in April.

The military report was part of what spurred the province to launch an independent commission examining the disproportionate spread of the novel coronavirus within the facilities.

The commission has so far come out with two sets of interim recommendations for long-term care facilities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2021.