Ontario Ombudsman to Investigate Government’s Oversight Of Long-Term Care Homes During Pandemic

“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis; our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action”    – Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé

A Brief Foreword from Doug Draper at Niagara At Large, followed by a News Release from the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman

Posted June 2nd, 2020 on Niagara At Large

A report from Canadian Armed Forces personnel on the conditions inside at least some of Ontario’s long-term care homes was described as “gut-wrenching” by Premier Doug Ford when it surfaced this May

Coming on the heels late this May of the Ontario Ford Government’s decision to carry out an “independent review” of the operations of long-term care homes across the province, the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman, an officer independent of the provincial legislature, is now also weighting in with an investigation of its own.

Given the shocking findings in a Canadian Armed Forces report, obtained by the news media late this May, this is welcome news.

The Armed Forces report graphically described horrific conditions for seniors residing in at least some privately and publicly run homes across the province, including residents suffering with open bed wounds and begging for help, residents eating rotting food, left unattended for hours on end, living with cockroaches, and the list of nightmare items goes on and on.

Since the Armed Forces report’s release, and long before its release, support workers employed in many of these homes, and relatives of seniors residing in them, have complained about conditions that, in at least some cases, were so bad that we wouldn’t collectively tolerate if a dog or cat was being subjected to them.

And who is at fault for this disgraceful situation?

It is far too easy to place the blame on the current Fort government, and certainly it has done little or nothing, and sometimes less than nothing (last year, it cut funding for long-term care homes) over the past two years, to improve conditions.

While Ontario Tory premiers deserve their share of blame for conditions in the province’s long-term care homes, conditions were reportedly no better under the watch of these two Liberal premiers, Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty

Last year alone, with the Ford government already in power for a year, there were reported only nine oversight inspections conducted in a province with more than 600 privately and publicly run homes.

As inexcusable as that alone is, the facts show that conditions for seniors and for front-line staff in Ontario’s long-term care homes took a marked turned for the worse starting in 1995 with the Tory government of Mike Harris, whose government began the process of privatizing these homes in earnest.

They continued deteriorating through governments run by two Liberal premiers, Dalton McGuinty and the equally arrogant and notorious Kathleen Wynne.

It doesn’t say much for Ontario as a government and as society that can and should be judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable that it took this COVID-19 health disaster and a report by Canadian Armed Forces personnel called in to these homes to assist during this crisis, to finally open our eyes to how unacceptable the conditions are for aging people we claim to care about.

So onward and forward with the Ombudsman’s investigation and with the government’s independent review.

However, these investigations SHOULD NOT be used as excuses to delay instituting the measures we know from previous inquiries need to be taken to offer a few final years of comfort and dignity to people who, going back to the Second World War years of the last century, helped build this province.

  • Doug Draper, Niagara At Large

Now here is the News Release from the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman –

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé

TORONTO – Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today (this June 1st) launched an investigation into the oversight of long-term care homes by the province’s Ministry of Long-Term Care and Ministry of Health during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The investigation will focus on whether the oversight of long-term care homes by those ministries during the coronavirus crisis is adequate to ensure the safety of residents and staff.

Mr. Dubé said he is invoking his authority to investigate on his own initiative – without receiving complaints – in light of the grave concerns raised by COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes across the province, and the report last week by Canadian military personnel that revealed shocking conditions in five such homes.

“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis; our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action,” the Ombudsman said. “Determining the root causes of administrative dysfunction and recommending practical solutions is what we do.”

Although the Ministry of Health’s Patient Ombudsman handles complaints about the quality and functioning of long-term care homes, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s Inspections Branch takes complaints about individual homes and whether they are in compliance with standards, the Ontario Ombudsman oversees both ministries, including these bodies.

Another hearse pulls out of the parking lot at the ill-fated Pinecrest long-term care home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario this past April during a tragic outbreak of the COVID virus there. The Ford government did not place that home under an  “emergency order” until several weeks later.

Investigators with the Special Ombudsman Response Team, which handles the Ombudsman’s large-scale systemic investigations, will review the ministries’ standards and policies for long-term care homes during the pandemic, as well as the adequacy of oversight mechanisms to ensure compliance.

Among other things, they will look at complaint handling, inspections carried out by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, emergency planning, steps taken to support long-term care homes during the COVID-19 crisis, collection of data on coronavirus cases, rates of infection and deaths in long-term care, and communication with long-term care home residents, staff and the public.

“The pandemic has strained public services immensely, but also demonstrated how vital they are,” Mr. Dubé said. “Never has it been more important to ensure that these systems are working as they should. This is where we can help, as an independent, impartial expert in administrative systems. We are uniquely suited to investigate systemic governance issues and to propose solutions that enhance transparency, accountability, and fairness.”

Both ministries were given formal notice of the investigation today. There is no set time frame for the investigation, but given the challenges of the present situation, with most public servants working remotely, it will proceed as efficiently as circumstances permit, Mr. Dubé said.

“My entire office and I are also working remotely, and we recognize that these ministries in particular are facing significant challenges during this time,” Mr. Dubé said. “I am confident that our long expertise in working with public sector bodies to effect constructive change will benefit them and Ontarians in the long run.”

Anyone with information relevant to the issue of the ministries’ oversight of long-term care is asked to file a complaint online at www.ombudsman.on.ca. Complaints can also be made by email info@ombudsman.on.ca. (Please note: Complaints about individual long-term care homes should still be made to the Patient Ombudsman at www.patientombudsman.ca.)

Throughout the present provincial state of emergency, the Ombudsman’s office has continued to resolve complaints and work on investigations: Since beginning to work remotely on March 16, Ombudsman staff has handled more than 2,500 complaints – more than 630 of which were related to COVID-19 concerns.

The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates some 26,000 public complaints per year about provincial government bodies. …  The Ombudsman’s recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted by government, resulting in numerous reforms, including help for people with developmental disabilities who are in crisis, improved drug funding and newborn screening, and enhanced tracking of inmates in solitary confinement.

A FOOTNOTE FROM NIAGARA AT LARGE – We will have more news and commentary on the disgusting conditions in Ontario long-term care homes in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

To read the full 15-page military report, highlighting shocking conditions in at least some of Ontario’s long-term care homes, click on https://www.macleans.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/JTFC-Observations-in-LTCF-in-ON.pdf

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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