Ford and OPSEU spar over long-term care home inspections

Long-term care abuse, File Photo

After Ontario Premier Doug Ford took issue Thursday with what he called union inspectors refusing to go into long-term care homes physically and opting to do them over the phone instead, the head of that union accused his government managers of blurring the truth.

“Enough’s enough,” he said about the OPSEU members. “They have to be accountable too.”

Multiple media reports have come out regarding inspections at long-term care homes happening over the phone, but on Thursday, Ford spoke at length about getting them back inside.

While giving credit to union head Smokey Thomas for getting inspectors to return, Ford said he was done “taking bullets” for them in recent days.

“The truth of the matter is, they were refusing to go into these homes,” he said. “What do you do when you have the union saying they aren’t going in the door?” 

“Thanks to him (Thomas) they’re going back in.” 

Ford also said he understood why inspectors would be worried about going into the homes, given the concerns about their own health. 

He said it’s what led to hospitals, public health officials and eventually the military being brought in to help. 

“I don’t know the inner workings of the union, all I know is they refused to go in,” he said. 

Ford’s office released an April 22nd letter from Thomas to him, as well as Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton, acknowledging that much, if not all, of the work being done by union inspectors at that time was happening over the phone. 

“But we now understand that your government wants to have in-person inspections. Thanks to the low staffing levels and the inherent risks to multiple parties from such inspections, this plan is not only ill-advised, but not necessary. In-person inspections will not provide us with any more information than we already have,” the letter said. 

The letter also said the ministry had no plans to keep inspectors safe. 

“It was initially indicated that inspectors were to ask the homes they visit for PPE when they arrive,” the letter said. “Provide more support staff, move patients who are mobile, cut agency staff who work at multiple homes. What’s needed now is a plan. What’s needed now is action.”

After Ford’s comments, Thomas released a statement and while it did take issue with his comments, he focused his frustrations with the government managers around him. 

“It’s unbelievable how government managers are keeping the Premier in the dark about what has happened in long-term care homes. Today they inserted their collective foot in the Premier’s mouth,” he said. 

Thomas said members were never told not to go into homes, nor was there ever a work refusal and rather it was managers that gave that direction. 

He did acknowledge that at one point in the spring, inspectors were asked to volunteer to go into homes due to safety concerns, with 60 of their 164 staff responding. 

“The Premier says he is tired of taking bullets for the union, but in this case our prudence helped him dodge one,” he said. “Inadequate staffing is yet another area where ministry managers have failed to give the Premier and the Minister of Long Term Care the real facts.” 

April 22nd OPSEU letter to Ford and Fullerton:

Dear Premier Ford; Minister Fullerton, The deadly scenario playing out in Ontario’s long-term care facilities with COVID-19 is terrifying and preventable. For a province that has been more than equipped to provide proper funding for a strong public sector, we are now instead seeing the results of years of neglect. Case in point: Long-term care inspections. While over-worked and frustrated, inspectors remain dutifully committed to their obligations amidst this pandemic. They continue to investigate what needs to be done to flatten the curve and save lives, despite the fact only 164 inspectors are on the job supporting 626 homes. Increased staffing levels are needed now. Thankfully, much, if not all, of the inspection work happening now is being done by phone, providing a measure of safety for inspectors, long-term care home staff, and residents. But we now understand that your government wants to have in-person inspections. Thanks to the low staffing levels and the inherent risks to multiple parties from such inspections, this plan is not only ill-advised, but not necessary. In-person inspections will not provide us with any more information than we already have. …/2 The problems have been identified over and over again. Front-line health care workers have told inspectors that much more must be done to flatten the curve. Residents are not receiving the care that they need in some of these homes. We know that private long-term care home providers never had a plan for this level of illness within their facilities. And that’s the inherent issue with privatization. This Ministry of Long-Term Care needs to listen to the front line. It has no plans to keep inspectors safe. It was initially indicated that inspectors were to ask the homes they visit for PPE when they arrive. Most inspectors are not trained nurses. In fact, they have various levels of training and experience and often do not have any specific infection control or PPE training. Senior ministry staff have also stated inspectors need to physically see if residents are being treated properly. We already know they are not. Senior bureaucrats know it too. The homes need more staff and equipment. Risking the health of residents and inspectors has zero value right now. The government must send long-term care homes the proper medical infrastructure to help them cope and recover – people, unlike inspectors, who have the ability to help on-site. Provide more support staff, move patients who are mobile, cut agency staff who work at multiple homes. What’s needed now is a plan. What’s needed now is action. 

MAY 28 THOMAS STATEMENT 

It’s unbelievable how government managers are keeping the Premier in the dark about what has happened in long-term care homes.  Today they inserted their collective foot in the Premier’s mouth.

The Premier’s claim that OPSEU told occupational health and safety inspectors and long-term care inspectors to not go into the facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic is utterly untrue.

Managers in the Ministry of Health and Long-Term care are purposely misleading the Premier to cover up their own incompetence that covers decades of inaction.  Inaction that has cost thousands of lives of our most vulnerable citizens. People who helped build this province and make it what it is today.

We never told our members not to go into long-term homes. There was never one work refusal. Managers gave direction not to enter the long term care homes.

In a letter I sent to the Premier and Minister of Long Term Care on April 22, a letter that has still gone unanswered, we advised them not to send inspectors into the facilities because there was no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), no infection control protocol, no policies, no training and no pandemic planning in place.  We were concerned that inspectors could have potentially and unknowingly spread COVID from home to home. Imagine the scenario had all 626 homes been impacted.

In the letter I also pointed out that: “Residents are not receiving the care that they need in some of these homes.  We know that private long-term care home providers never had a plan for this level of illness within their facilities and that’s the inherent issue with privatization.”

In essence we raised some of the same concerns the military did, about long-term care albeit a month earlier.

In the same vein, further evidence of our warning is where I go on to point out that “Senior ministry staff have also stated inspectors need to physically see if residents are being treated properly.  We already know they are not.  Senior bureaucrats know it too.”

OPSEU flagged the problem for the government in this April 22 letter. We spent weeks trying to get PPE for our inspectors.  Now that they have limited access to PPE, they are carrying out inspections in those homes where it is available. 

Imagine for a second the terrible tragedy that could have happened had the inspectors gone into the homes without proper safeguards, especially given what we now know about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission.  The death toll could have been even worse than it already is.

The Premier says he is tired of taking bullets for the union, but in this case our prudence helped him dodge one.