Advocates push for improvements to long-term care homes at protest in Waterloo

Protestors gathered in Waterloo Public Square on Monday, pushing for improvements to Ontario's long-term care homes.

Hundreds of nurses, personal support workers and advocates protested at sites across the province on Monday, pushing for improvements to Ontario's health care system and long-term care homes.

In Waterloo Region, about a dozen people gathered at Waterloo Public Square around noon.

“There's no accountability and there’s no rationale,” said Jim Stewart, chair of the advocacy group the Waterloo Region Health Coalition. “What we’ve got at long-term care is for-profit corporations running long-term care. So they cut corners and part of the cutting of the corners is to have the lowest cost of staff."

Jean Kuehl is a retired registered nurse. She worked at a long-term care home in Waterloo Region for nearly thirty years.

“You only have one pair of hands and a seven-and-a-half-hour shift,” said Kuehl.

Kuehl retired before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, but she said even before the COVID-19 crisis, long-term care homes were understaffed. She said that care was impacted and lead to things like regularly missed baths for residents.

“You can’t get it all done if you’re looking after three or four more people,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl was one of the speakers at the local protest in Waterloo.

The Ontario Health Coalition is behind the protests.

The organization is demanding an end to for-profit long-term care, more staff to meet the needs of residents and increased enforcement of standards. That could include surprise suspensions and stricter penalties like fines and loss of licenses for non-compliance.

Elsewhere in Ontario, protestors also gathered outside of Queen’s Park.

“We just staggered that nothing has actually happened to improve long-term care. It has been promised repeatedly for last two years,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

In a statement sent to CTV Kitchener, the provincial government acknowledged more needs to be done to improve Ontario's long-term care homes.

"After decades of neglect, our government continues to take action to fix Ontario's long-term care sector. We have a plan to fix long-term care and to ensure Ontario's seniors get the quality of care they need and deserve, now and in the future. Our plan is built on three pillars: staffing and care; accountability, enforcement and transparency; and home infrastructure and development," said Rod Phillips, Minister of Long Term Care, said in an emailed statement. "This government has made historic commitments to increasing staffing levels and building new beds - and we're making good progress on these commitments. We intend to introduce legislation and we are moving to improve accountability in the long-term care sector to ensure residents get the care they deserve. We look forward to working with groups across Ontario to fix long-term care."

The province has promised to hire 27,000 more long-term care staff over the next five years. Reforms to Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes Act are expected in the fall of 2021.