Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Editorial: The system failed

  • May 5, 2021

From the early days of the pandemic, well over a year ago, it quickly became evident that long-term care homes were in the eye of this hurricane.

The virus exposed some major failings of the health care system in protecting these vulnerable seniors and those tasked with caring for them. Governments on all levels expressed shock and horror, promising to make things right. They haven’t.

The report by Ontario’s Long Term Care COVID-19 Commission released last week was just the latest to condemn the delayed response of the province in controlling the spread of the deadly virus in long-term care homes. That came on the heels of a damning indictment by Ontario’s Auditor General. Earlier, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released a national report that was equally distressing. Despite the massive impact of the virus during the first wave last spring, the CIHI found that the pandemic experience in LTC and retirement homes had not improved during the second wave.

The CIHI also noted that every national and provincial report delving into the major issues around long-term care and COVID point to the “need for increased staffing levels, stronger infection control and prevention practices, better inspection and enforcement processes, and improved building infrastructure to reduce crowding and infection spread.”

A single statistic tells the sad reality: Of the more than 24,000 COVID-related deaths in Canada, more than 85 per cent have been in the 70-plus age group.

The Ontario COVID Commission’s 322-page report is especially damning, lambasting the government for its slow response and its failure to protect our most vulnerable in the province’s 626 LTC homes. By the time preventative measures were mandated last April, the virus had already turned into a wildfire of death.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care, somewhat predictably, places blame on the previous government for allowing conditions to deteriorate at the homes. The reality is there have been problems and a lack of accountability at these home for many, many years before COVID and report after report has flagged them, but the will to solve them has been missing.

Now, the government pledges to heed recommendations from the Long Term Care COVID-19 Commission. “It is plain and obvious that Ontario must develop, impletment and sustain long-term solutions for taking care of its elderly and preparing for a future pandemic,” said the report, which could easily be addressed to the entire country.

Over and over, we have heard the voices from caregivers, health professionals, families and the Church begging for protection of this vulnerable population. It’s a tragedy that it took the deaths of thousands to make us pay attention to a problem decades in the making.

The fact is we failed our elderly when they most needed our help. We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future and that future cannot wait. It has to start today.

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