Health watchdog uses throne speech to call for immediate improvements in long-term care

A provincial health care watchdog used the occasion of Monday’s Ontario government throne speech to point out what it says are deficiencies in the long-term care system.

The Ontario Health Coalition held demonstrations outside MPP offices across the province Monday, including PC MPP Jeff Yurek’s constituency office in St. Thomas.

Among the protestors was Susan Godin, who says her sister passed in 2019 while residing at a London long- term care home. Godin says there were times her sister went as long as 10 days without being bathed, due to low staffing levels.

“There was only one PSW (personal support worker) available, and they needed two to bathe her, so she actually went 10 days without a bath,” says Godin. “We were really quite worried about her hygiene, and her happiness, and everything.”

The group is calling for an end to private, for-profit long-term care, and immediate improvements in staffing and inspection levels at long-term care homes.

“Enforcement rules that are on the books but are not being enforced,” said Peter Bergmanis, from the London branch of the Ontario Health Coalition. “We haven’t seen one operator held to account -- and they need to be held to account.”

Last Friday, the province announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for long-term care staff, effective November 15.

“It’s not making it attractive for those who are still in the industry,” says Bergmanis. He believes the measure will result in even more trained staff leaving-long term care. “Honestly, 90 per cent or more have already been vaccinated. But if they’re left to have to work unbearable hours with crushing workloads -- many who are able to retire are retiring.”

The protest comes as Southwestern Public Health works to contain a COVID-19 outbreak at Elgin Manor, a public non-profit long-term care home just west of St. Thomas.

It’s the first outbreak at a long-term care home in the entire Southwestern catchment area of St. Thomas, Elgin and Oxford since May of this year.

The health unit said as of Monday three people at Elgin Manor had tested positive for COVID-19, including two residents and one staff.

Yurek did not respond to our request for comment on the protest.