Kim Karrys waves to her mother and a friend in Providence Healthcare. There has been an outbreak with 11 positive cases of COVID-19 in the long-term care section of the hospital. Michael Swan

Fix ‘serious, systemic flaws’ in long-term care now

By 
  • June 25, 2020

The churches and other faith groups which run food banks, shelters and other social programs want the government to start fixing Ontario’s long-term care homes now, even before convening a commission to look at the system.

“COVID-19 was not the first indication that the delivery of Ontario’s long-term care has serious, systemic flaws,” said a letter from the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition signed by 150 faith-based service providers and clergy.

It was important for members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to sign onto the ISARC letter, said Ontario St. Vincent de Paul head of advocacy Danny Bourne.

“I guess for us as Catholics — and this intersects with a lot of other faith groups — it’s sanctity of life from the beginning, from conception to natural death,” Bourne told The Catholic Register.

“Therefore, as citizens and members of a society or a community we have to make sure that those institutions we put in place take care of those who are vulnerable — are properly supported, funded and so on.”

In Ontario, 63.4 per cent of more than 2,600 COVID-19 deaths so far have occurred in long-term care facilities. On May 19 the provincial government announced an independent commission that will examine nursing-home care. The province has yet to announce who will lead the commission, its terms of reference or a schedule of hearings.

The May 29 letter to Premier Doug Ford and Long-Term Care Minister Marrilee Fullerton has been sent twice, the first time bearing the signature of ISARC leadership and two weeks later with the signatures of 150 people active in the ISARC network.

Immediately, ISARC is asking the government to do something about chronic understaffing and guarantee “the long promised minimum of an average four hours of hands-on, frontline nursing and personal care,” said the ISARC letter.

Once the commission is called, ISARC chair Rev. Susan Eagle wants it operating out in the open and hearing from citizens across the province.

“There’s a lot of wiggle room for how open it is, how transparent the process is and how much and what sources of information are received by the commission. That was our concern,” Eagle said.

Bourne wants the commission to look seriously at wages and working conditions.

“From the Catholic perspective, we come from that tradition not only of preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, but also for workers too,” he said. “Just that sanctity of life and respect for workers. Pay your labourers a fair wage.”

Bourne doesn’t think the government will be able to dismiss ISARC as a special interest group.

“This is mainstream people here,” he said. “We’re people who attend services at all these different faith groups. We’re not fringe people. We’re mainstream people.”

Advocating for people in nursing homes is a natural extension of ISARC’s work advocating for the poor, said Eagle.

“If you have a lot of wealth, you’re probably finding some alternatives to a nursing home right now,” she said. “There’s no age limit on looking at where social policy needs to be addressed for people who are vulnerable.”

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