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Tories turn their backs on Long Term Care

Carolyn Egan

January 5, 2021

“What we are seeing is worse than anything I have ever seen in the homes,” said Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC). Relatives of residents, and many others, demonstrated once again on Saturday January 2 in front of the Tender Care facility in Scarborough, ON.

It was an emotional rally with families grieving for those who have died, and others demanding increased staffing and care levels to save their parents and grandparents from a similar fate. Votive candles were placed all over the property. As of January 4, there are 59 active cases of Covid 19 among residents, 21 staff infected and there have been 64 deaths in the current outbreak. It speaks to the horrific conditions that the elderly are facing in the pandemic, which is out of control in the province with 3,128 new cases on January 4, and 51 more deaths.

The shocking facts are that three of the largest long term care (LTC) corporations paid out $171 million in profits to shareholders while they received $138.5 million in provincial pandemic pay. Past premier of the province, Mike Harris, has been chair of the board of directors of one of them, Chartwell, since 2003. He is responsible for doing away with minimum mandatory staffing levels when he led the Progressive Conservative government, and spearheaded the privatizing of LTC facilities. Profit before care!

The Toronto Star quoted an unnamed son of a resident who died: “I could not be with him. I could not hold his hand. I could not say goodbye!” This is the result of the devastating cuts that have taken place and the refusal of the Doug Ford government to take the necessary steps to improve the situation. More than one third of LTC homes (216 of 620) are now experiencing outbreaks. On January 3, there were 1160 resident cases and 1140 staff according to the same paper, using public health data. Since the start of the pandemic 11,369 residents and 4,434 staff have been infected. 

The facilities are terribly understaffed with workers doing their very best to provide the necessary care. But they are overworked, under paid, and do not have enough co-workers to do the job. The province has promised $1.9 billion to create 27,000 full time equivalent jobs but not until 2024-25! The OHC has called for the military to deploy physicians, nurses and other health care personal, as was done in the first phase of the pandemic. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) that has members in many of the homes, has echoed this demand. The Minister of Long-Term Care has been resisting this in spite of the rising deaths and infection rates, perhaps because of a leaked report that showed the military found abuse, neglect and insect infestations when it went into facilities earlier.

Another key call by the three main unions who have staff in these facilities – CUPE, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Unifor – is that private ownership should cease and that LTC should be “not for profit”. These workers are not allowed the right to strike, but workplace and collective action has been shown to be the most effective way to win. Workers have been joining with resident councils and families to organize for the needed changes. In one facility they have won the removal of the executive director, others have won improved workplace conditions. Many of them have been in the streets attending rallies and demonstrations on their precious time off.

Pressure has to be put on the province to immediately raise the pay of LTC workers, increase staffing levels, end privatized care, and immediately implement a minimum of four hours of direct care daily to residents. This last demand was won, but is not being implemented for a number of years, which is totally unacceptable.

I am a frontline, unionized, health care worker (not in LTC) and an activist in the Ontario Health Coalition whose members have been fighting unceasingly on behalf of LTC residents and workers. Its coordinator, Natalie Mehra stated, “Not one home has been fined, not one license has been revoked; there are no consequences!” This expresses the outrage of the grass roots OHC member groups across the province that are joining with workers, residents and families to fight this outrageous situation. It is unconscionable that this is allowed to continue, and the blame lies clearly on the shoulders of the corporate owners and the provincial government which has willingly made it happen. They must be held accountable and face the consequences before more die.

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