It took 11 days for Michelle Oglivie, a Nova Scotia resident, to be notified that her aunt had broken her hip at the long-term care home where she lives.
When Oglivie was finally able to visit her in late December, she was shocked by the living conditions.
“I first noticed her oxygen was improperly connected. It was plugged into a power bar loosely,” Oglivie said in a town hall meeting Monday.
“There was an entanglement of electrical cords, which poses a danger … she had a full diaper. I had found expired medication in her belongings dating back to 2017.”
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul held the emergency town hall meeting to sound the alarm on long-term care (LTC) homes, calling situations like the one Oglivie's aunt experienced a “humanitarian crisis.”
“I don’t think that anyone could suggest that what we are experiencing now in our long-term care facilities across the country is anything less than a humanitarian crisis,” said Paul, whose father died in an Ontario LTC home in May due to an infection.
Paul, along with LTC advocates and experts who spoke at the town hall, is calling on the federal government to implement national standards for long-term care.
Trudeau hasn’t committed to developing such standards but has said he will “happily partner” with provinces and territories that want to improve their LTC facilities.
Premiers, meanwhile, have slammed the feds for attempting to step on their jurisdiction, and have unanimously demanded that Ottawa increase provincial and territorial health transfers by at least $28 billion every year with no strings attached.
The governing of LTC homes isn’t included in the Canada Health Act, therefore regulations surrounding their operation are entirely up to each province.
The town hall meeting also comes on the heels of Ontario hitting a record number of LTC facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks. As of Monday morning, the number of LTC homes in the province reporting outbreaks stood at 219.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul held an emergency town hall meeting to sound the alarm on LTC homes, calling the situation a “humanitarian crisis.” This comes on the heels of Ontario hitting a record number of LTC facilities with COVID-19. #cdnpoli
Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling for MPPs to return to the Ontario legislature immediately "to work on solutions to save people in long-term care, and fix Ontario’s lethargic vaccines program."
Since last January, 2,781 residents and eight staff members have died in Ontario’s long-term care homes due to the virus.
The solutions to fix the situation in LTC homes already exist, according to the speakers who participated in Monday's town hall — however political will is missing.
Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, praises provinces that have a better hold on long-term care, compared to Ontario.
In the summer, Quebec recruited 10,000 full-time orderlies to work in LTC facilities and covered the cost of their training. Meanwhile, British Columbia provided its LTC workforce of primarily racialized, immigrant women with full-time salaries that include sick leave.
“What we need to do is tell our elected officials: ‘Let’s get this done now,’” Sinha said.
He sees the vaccine as the solution to “ending this nightmare” but isn’t too happy with the current rollout pace.
Over 148,000 vaccines have been delivered to Ontario, with thousands more on the way. However, as of Sunday night, only 41,000 people have actually gotten the jab.
Another solution to mitigating the issues in LTC homes is to divest from for-profit LTC facilities, according to Vivian Stamatopoulos, long-term care home advocate and social science professor at Ontario Tech University, a demand echoed by federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
“The evidence is undeniable. Both pre-pandemic and during our pandemic, we have seen the for-profit sector fail abysmally,” said Stamatopoulos.
Even before the pandemic, these homes had more deaths, lower quality of care and were more likely to be understaffed, according to Stamatopoulos, yet they’ve had great financial success during the pandemic.
Collectively, three of Canada's largest for-profit LTCs paid out $171 million to their shareholders in the first three quarters of 2020, according to their financial statements.
Paul hopes improvements to LTC facilities can be made soon with a change of government due to a looming election.
“I believe this is an election year,” Paul said. “I believe this is exactly the time people in Canada should hold every party to account.”
Yasmine Ghania / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer