Ontario promises review into long-term-care system; union skeptical of success
The Ontario Government is promising a thorough review into the long-term care system as the province continues to grapple with outbreaks in its facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the head of the union which represents 60,000 health-care and community service workers says she’ll believe it when she sees it.
"I have been at so many government tables where we’ve identified the crisis in the sector,” Sharleen Stewart said, president of SEIU Healthcare. “It has not been done.”
On Thursday, Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said on social media there would be a review into the system after ‘years of neglect.’
“Once we emerge from this pandemic, we will get to the bottom of this,” she said on Twitter. “All forms of review are on the table.”
“There will come a time to discuss the scale, scope, and terms of a review, but our priority today must be to protect people’s lives and continue to bend the curve.”
But Stewart who has been president of the SEIU since 2003, says the problems have been known and the same for two decades, pointing to a lack of investment to front-line staff - which has now led to an employee retention problem - and for-profit providers having too much power.
“Like Chartwell, Extendicare to come into our province to be able to set up business and put profits before the front-line care for both the residents and for the staff, I will argue that until my last breath, that’s the problem here,” she said.
Long-term care impact as of May 6
While she’s hopeful the review will happen and do some good, she admits she’s not optimistic because of past promises by various governments not being fulfilled and that other reviews and commissions have been done before.
She points to the inquiry of serial killer and former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, which was completed in 2019.
It includes over 90 recommendations, including specific ones about the sector, including more investment for staff and facilities.
Just before the pandemic, unions representing the system were invited by government to add any comments to the report.
“This was my sixth table,” she said, regarding ideas to fix the system, but attention was heightened after Wettlaufer. “The recommendations are the same, only now they’re higher, but it’s the same problems for two decades have existed, the answers are in there.”
“We’ve done reviews, we’ve done commissions, we’ve done inquiries with a lot of recommendations that have come out, they have not implemented those,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford said Fullerton would come out with more details in the coming days.
“We know the system’s broken,” he said. “We’re going to have a complete review, not just in long-term care, I think the whole system of government, there’s better ways of doing things.”