Ontario Health Coalition Briefing on Long-Term Care Outbreaks, Funding and Staffing

On October 6, two days before the Ontario Day of Action for Long-Term Care, Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, gave a briefing on the current state of affairs in the Ontario long-term care (LTC) system and discussed government announcements in the past week around funding and staffing. Below are excerpts from her presentation.


We are in a second wave, it appears, and things are getting more serious daily. There are now about 50 outbreaks in LTC homes across the province. Some are small -- one or two people -- but some are quite large, particularly in Ottawa, where about a third of the province's outbreaks are happening. Extendicare West End Villa is the worst. More than 100 people, staff and residents, have been infected and I am sorry to report that I believe 19 have died. There are also outbreaks at five other homes in Ottawa and large outbreaks in Toronto as well.

What we have not seen is any fundamental change in the response to outbreaks in homes [...] Extendicare West End Villa provides alarming evidence that the standards set by the Ontario government for homes have not changed since last spring. Extendicare reported on September 11 that there was enough PPE (personal protective equipment) in the home. The Ministry of Long-Term Care spokesperson said they believe that there was enough staff in the home. The feeling of family members and staff was completely the opposite.

Lack of Safety Standards Throughout the System

Staff reported anonymously to the CBC (because they could be fired for speaking out) that frontline staff treating COVID positive residents did not have access to N-95 masks in Extendicare West End Villa. More than two dozen staff had contracted COVID-19 by that time.

Families reported loved ones being in a room shared with residents showing COVID-19 symptoms. It wasn't until days later that the person was tested. It was still another 24 hours before that COVID-19 positive resident was moved to isolation. In the meantime three people were sharing one bathroom with the COVID-19 positive resident. Another family described their loved one being COVID positive, in a room with the door open, with other residents walking in and out without proper isolation and protection.

It was not until two weeks ago that Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health ordered The Ottawa Hospital to take over the management of the home [as well as Extendicare Laurier -- WF ed. note] and send in a rapid response unit to help. That was well after over 90 residents and staff had contracted COVID 19. As of the most recent reports that home is still waiting for 270 test results.

It was expected that province-wide standards would be in place with a threshold set -- one or two people infected -- which would trigger specific measures being snapped into place: additional staffing; infected residents moved to where they can receive safe care in a hospital or field hospital [...] What is clear from Ottawa is that there is no systemic approach.

Staffing Shortage

Since summer nothing has been done to improve staffing levels in LTC homes across Ontario [...] Many homes report a worse staffing situation at the end of the first wave than they had at the beginning.

In July we did a survey of staff at LTC homes to determine if there were more or fewer staff now than at the start of the pandemic. The majority said there were fewer. More than 93 per cent said they were working short-staffed every day. It was better in the public and not-for-profit homes but across the board, staffing is still inadequate in LTC homes.

Even with the announcements of government funding in the last few weeks, no measures have been taken to get the thousands of staff that are needed into the homes to get care up to safe levels. In the last week and a half the government announced a bump up in funding for homes which is significant -- about $403 million to offset COVID-19 specific costs. That amounts to about $44 million for all the 626 LTC homes in Ontario each month [of which 58 per cent are privately owned, 24 per cent non-profit/charitable, and 16 per cent are municipal -- WF ed. note]. That is significant. However the money from the summer has not flowed yet. June funding was received in September. Homes are still waiting for July and August money. That may help explain why we didn't see staffing improvements in June and July.

Also, the number of staff the government has announced funding for is far too few. For health care, in total, they announced 3,700 new staff. But when we look more closely, these are not fully funded. They announced $18 million for a nursing graduate guarantee program that is supposed to provide 600 nurses focused on long-term care and in hospitals. That amounts to $30,000 per nurse. That does not actually translate into 600 new nurses. It may top up some part-time nurses to full-time, but it is not enough to provide 600 new nurses. They announced up to $8 million for 800 nurses in areas of need across the province. That amounts to $10,000 per nurse. Again $10,000 does not pay a full-time nurse. These announcements have been a lot of PR without really a lot of substance.

We have a very serious problem and we are extremely concerned as a Health Coalition. We have not seen measures that will stabilize the workforce and we are now into a second wave. LTC homes have less resilience to deal with an outbreak when it happens than in the first wave. Staff have worked a lot of overtime and made enormous sacrifices and we will see more leave the sector in this second wave. Unless we see government action now -- it really needed to happen months ago -- we are very concerned for people living and working in long-term care.

(Photos: OHC, Unifor)

This article was published in

Number 69 - October 13, 2020

Article Link:
Ontario Health Coalition Briefing on Long-Term Care Outbreaks, Funding and Staffing


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