TORONTO - On April 30, Ontario’s Long-Term Care Covid-19 Commission released its final report to the Provincial Government. Not surprisingly, long-term care (LTC) homes were “easy targets for uncontrolled outbreaks”, the report said. Nor was there any pandemic preparedness plan in place to protect vulnerable residents and staff from the highly infectious Covid-19 virus.
The Commission was responsible for conducting an investigation as to how and why Covid-19 spread throughout LTC homes in Ontario. It also looked at what measures were taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
Furthermore, the report offered additional recommendations on how to protect the lives of residents and sta. in LTC. During the seven-month investigation (September 2020-March 2021), the Commission heard from more than 700 individuals, including families, residents, staff, medical experts and government officials.
It is no secret the LTC sector was in a state of neglect for many years. According to the authors of the 322-page report, “Ontario’s policymakers and leaders failed during those years to take sufficient action, despite repeated calls for reform”.
Following SARS in 2003, the province took steps to prepare for influenza pandemics. However, as years passed, “pandemic preparedness ceased to be a priority”, the report said, with no updated plan since 2014. Instead, the focus shifted to emergency readiness, but no comprehensive plan to deal with an outbreak such as Covid-19.
The lack of ample supply of PPEs, inadequate infection prevention and control knowledge and chronic underfunding left the vulnerable sector exposed to an unrelenting viral invasion. Combine that with crowded and outdated LTC facilities and an overburdened workforce stretched to the limit prior to Covid-19, the tenuous situation catapulted into a tragic one once the virus took hold.
In 2020, 61% of all Covid-related fatalities were residents in LTC homes. As of May 1, 2021, 3,918 LTC residents and 11 staff have lost their lives to Covid-19. Evidently, the province’s response to the virus was slow and reactive with initial focus on hospitals and not on LTC homes. “The Government’s emergency response system proved inadequate to protect staff and residents from Covid-19”, the report stated.
Even with months to prepare before the second wave and about $540 million in new investments as part of the Province’s Fall Preparedness Plan, there was a “repeat of tragedies” in LTC.
In February 2021, the province announced additional investments of $115 million to train up to 8,200 new PSWs. However, “this funding could not help homes through the second wave”, the commissioners wrote.
During the investigation, the Commission released two sets of interim recommendations in 2020. The first set focused on the urgent need for additional staffing in LTC, an increase of direct resident care and strengthening support between the health sector and LTC homes.
The second set of recommendations centered on additional measures to reduce the risk of infection and enhance quality of care. These included the reintroduction of comprehensive annual inspections, improved enforcement and effective leadership and accountability.
In all, the Commission included a list of 85 recommendations in the report. Some of which include a system that ensures LTC homes maintain a stockpile of PPEs and other essential supplies to respond appropriately during infectious outbreaks. Also, the report emphasizes the importance of recruiting and retaining sta. to ensure residents receive the appropriate care they deserve.
“Pandemic preparedness must be a constant priority”, the report stressed. With proper measures in place, one could only hope to safeguard against such devastation in the future.