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Concerns raised long-term care homes not ready for 2nd wave of COVID-19

A resident and a worker watch as 150 nursing union members show support at Orchard Villa Long-Term Care in Pickering, Ontario on Monday June 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

As the province continues to roll out its fall pandemic preparedness plan, voices of concern are growing from those working with the province’s long-term care homes.

Members of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, personal support workers and CUPE Ontario say long-term care facilities may not be prepared for the second wave of COVID-19 and they are calling on the province to do more around issues facing safety and staffing plans.

When the coronavirus first hit in the early spring it devastated those most vulnerable living in the long-term care community, killing more than 1,800 residents and eight staff.

Donna Duncan, the CEO of Ontario Long Term Care Association, says these places aren’t ready for a second wave and she blames the province’s inaction.

“Every home in the province should have dedicated, specialized infection prevention and controls and expertise in the homes to help screening and to help families and staff,” she says. “They were going to ensure that that never happened again… what we saw in the spring.”

As of September 24, there are 33 long-term care homes in Ontario with outbreaks including the West End Villa in Ottawa, where 11 residents have died over the last month. An inquiry into the province’s response to COVID in long-term care homes has started. It is investigating why wide-spread outbreaks occurred in the spring and whether enough was done to prevent them.​​​​​​​

As part of his fall preparedness plan announcement Wednesday, Premier Ford said that the province plans to implement “robust” testing strategies for long-term care homes to help “prevent and track” potential outbreaks. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott also announced a $30 million investment to prevent and manage outbreaks in priority sectors including “virtual simulation exercises” that are to take place.

At this point though, personal support workers like Florence Mwangi say they’re feeling overwhelmed and not enough has taken place to help them prepare for another surge in COVID cases, whether it be more training, proper PPE or more staff.

“Health care workers, we feel like we’re being ignored because no one has come in to show us that they care – even to bring adequate staff on the ground – and now with the pandemic you have the same residents, the same timing, more work to do,” says Mwangi.

Candace Rennick, the secretary-treasurer of CUPE Ontario, agrees that immediate measures need to be implemented.

“We’re calling for a comprehensive staffing strategy and a legislated guarantee of four hours of care for every resident of every single day. There’s a private members bill before the legislature right now. And if they were serious about that they could pass that into law this week.”