TORONTO, Ont. - A scathing report by the Canadian Armed Forces into the conditions at five long-term care homes in the province devastated by COVID-19 outbreaks have been described as heartbreaking and gut wrenching, and the Ontario government is vowing to fix what it is calling a broken system.
“A system has been broken for decades,” said Premier Doug Ford during his daily media briefing on Tuesday. “I am going to move heaven and earth to make sure we leave no stone unturned and fix the system. No matter how long it takes or the cost it takes. I am going to make sure we protect the most vulnerable in these homes.”
The military was called in to assist with five long-term care homes in the province experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19. A report released on Tuesday detailed deplorable conditions inside the homes and raised concerns about safety of residents, staffing levels, and infection prevention.
“I think it’s appalling. I think it’s disgusting,” Ford said. “The dignity of these patients in long-term care not being cleaned. These are standard operating procedures. It’s so disturbing when I read this. It was hard to get through. It was the most heart wrenching report I have read in my entire life, ever.”
Long-term care facilities in the province have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with outbreaks declared in more than 150 facilities across the province.
In Thunder Bay only one home declared an outbreak after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 but the outbreak has since been declared over.
Earlier this month, members of the NDP and official opposition at Queen’s Park were calling for a full, independent and public inquiry into long-term care and the provincial government announced it would be launching a commission to begin in September.
But Ford said nothing is off the table and if an inquiry is required, it will be considered.
“Everything is on the table. I am not ruling out anything after reading this,” Ford said. “My immediate reaction is to make sure we stabilize this.”
This includes the possibility of the government taking over long-term care in the province, but Ford said that cannot be done without the help of the federal government.
“Financially we wouldn’t be able to sustain that,” he said. “If the federal government comes in and supports us, it would be more sustainable.”
Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP, is still calling for a full public inquiry into long-term care and said action needs to be taken immediately.
“It’s shocking that the Canadian Armed Forces needed to lift the veil, when Doug Ford and Merrilee Fullerton ought to have known about these horrific conditions, and did nothing to take the homes over,” Horwath said in a written statement.
“The premier cannot pass the buck, finger-point, and express outrage about what his own government is doing on his watch. He has no choice to immediately require the resignation of Minister of Long Term Care Merillee Fullerton.”
There are 626 long-term care facilities in the province and Ford said it would be unfair to paint the entire system with a broad brush, as the majority have avoided COVID-19 outbreaks. But after reading the report into the five homes included in the Canadian Armed Forces Report, Ford acknowledged that there is most likely more than just five homes experiencing similar problems.
“I don’t believe it’s just five. We have to do a deep deep dive into all the homes and we are going to need the resources to do that,” he said. “That is why I’m asking for the federal government to help us and support us. I don’t believe it’s all of them, but I believe it’s more than five.”
The system has been broken for decades, said Minister of Long-term Care, Merrilee Fullerton, due in part to an aging population and a staffing crisis inside these facilities.
“Looking at all of that, we have an aging population. This is a national issue,” she said. “For years our population is aging. Long-term care was ignored. Long-term care was neglected.”
“This has been something a long time coming. Our government is committed to fix this problem once and for all.”
The province is requesting the assistance from the federal government and the Canadian Armed Forces continue for at least an additional 30 days.
Based on the report released by the Canadian Armed Forces, the province is beginning an active investigation, including one death being referred to the Office of the Chief Coroner for investigation.
“I take full accountability for the system we inherited,” Ford said. “I am going to fix this system no matter what it takes. The buck stops with me and I take full ownership of this.”