Whereas COVID-19 has had a devastating impact in Ontario’s long-term-care facilities, accounting for more than half of all COVID-19-related deaths in the province since March 2020; and
Whereas statistics show that there have been more COVID-19 related deaths in long-term-care facilities in the second wave than in the first wave, despite the Ford government’s promise of an iron ring; and
Whereas Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission has publicly shared significant concerns about the Ford government’s slow response in providing requested documents and records and the impact these delays have had on their investigation, to the point where the commission felt it necessary to request more time to complete their study; and
Whereas the Minister of Long-Term Care has rejected the commission’s request for an extension despite the delays and missing documents; and
Whereas numerous questions still remain about the effectiveness of the Ford government’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care and steps taken to protect some of Ontario’s most vulnerable residents;
Therefore, the Legislative Assembly calls on the Ford government to grant the request of Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission for an extension of their mandate to December 31, 2021 and to immediately release all government documents requested by the commission.
Unfortunately and, in fact, tragically and unacceptably, the governments have not responded to the increasing acuity levels of the residents that live in long-term care, so when COVID hit, we ended up in just a horrifying situation, one where the government didn’t even plan, initially, to deal with the tragedy that was about to unfold in long-term care. To be here at this point in time and still see homes in outbreaks and residents of long-term care still losing their lives to COVID-19 and families still grieving at the loss of their loved ones, is all that much more horrifying.
We know that 3,900—almost 4,000—residents now have lost their lives to COVID-19 in long-term care. We know that at this moment in time, there are almost 130 homes that are still in outbreak. And, of course, this is all within the context of the new variants of concern that are catching hold in our province. A province where the Premier has just begun to reopen, against the advice of pretty much every expert. Whether it be doctors in the Ontario Medical Association, whether it be hospital leadership, whether it be his own experts, whether it be Theresa Tam, the federal chief medical officer, whether it be folks at his own science table, everybody’s been saying to the Premier that now is not the time to start reopening Ontario because of these variants. But away we go, into a train wreck that this government could have had us avoid.
On top of that, as I mentioned today in question period, the government is not even bothering to put additional measures in place to help people stay safe. So things like paid sick days for workers are still not on the table, even though every expert is also telling the Premier that this is something he should be doing.
We don’t have reduced class sizes in classrooms across the province, even though a cap of 15 is what has been recommended on numerous occasions. This is extremely problematic, but it doesn’t seem to bother the government in the least.
Of course, we also know that we don’t have nearly as many PSWs as we should have. The government is apparently starting to do something about that—a drop in the ocean—in terms of an announcement they made today, but it’s certainly something they should have been doing back in March of last year.
In the context of all of these realities—the final reality being that it looks like the Premier is about to make the same mistake he has already made twice in terms of how he has handled this pandemic—the bottom line is, we have a commission that is supposed to be looking into the decisions that the government has made, and yet that commission has not been given the documents that it requires to do its job. We’re still in the midst of this crisis, and the commission has said it still believes it has a lot of work to do. That’s because this government has really stymied the work of the commission from day one.
It’s really, really troubling that the Premier went ahead with this model of an inquiry in the first place. People will know that New Democrats pushed for some time for this to be a truly independent judicial public inquiry, because that’s what Ontarians deserve in the face of the horrific tragedies that we’ve had to deal with. But the Premier and the Ford government have no interest whatsoever in doing the right thing.
Just so folks know, we have actually made a commitment that we will put together the true, full public inquiry that people need next year when we form government, because never, ever can we be put in the same situation again. The only way that we can ensure that we’re not making the same mistakes again is to have a truly independent public process to look at what went wrong and to look at what went right. Ontarians deserve that, at the very least, but they also deserve to be engaged in the process.
This is one of the things that we’ve seen with this government—the government has not been upfront with Ontarians on a number of levels. Yes, the commission is one of the problems. But let’s face it: This government has never been freely providing information, openly providing information that the public deserves and should have. I don’t know what it is that the government doesn’t want people to know. It’s a serious, serious problem, when we’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, that this government doesn’t believe that being open and honest is the right thing to do.
For example, they refused to tell Ontarians what the situation was with the status of long-term-care homes overall. The government keeps a record of which homes are in precarious situations, which ones are understaffed, which ones have a lot of complaints, which ones have had various kinds of outbreaks or incident reports or complaints against them. They categorize the homes into various colour-coded levels—you’re in the red zone; you’re in the green zone; you’re in the yellow zone. In other words, all of the long-term-care homes are categorized. But guess what? The government refused to let the people of Ontario know what category their loved one’s long-term-care home was in. It’s bad enough in the first place that there’s no transparency in that regard, but we had a global pandemic attack our province, and still the government didn’t allow people to have the information they needed to determine the risk that their loved ones were possibly facing with COVID-19 upon us. It’s not only irresponsible; it’s cruel not to give people the information they need to protect their loved ones, to make sure that they could make the right decisions around their loved ones’ health and well-being. It’s inexcusable that this kind of decision-making is what the Ford government thinks is the right thing to do—keep people in the dark, don’t give them the information they need to make decisions, and then watch 4,000 people die in long-term care. The tragedy is unspeakable.
But it’s not only that; this government refused to tell people who it was that was sitting on their task force in the first place in terms of their command table. The Premier claims he’s got this command table, he’s putting it together, and they’re going to make all the decisions around COVID-19, he’s going to get all kinds of advice, but then refuses to tell Ontarians exactly who is sitting at the command table.
Why is it that the Ford government doesn’t trust Ontarians with information? Is it because he doesn’t want to be blamed if something goes off the rails? Is it because he doesn’t want people to know the connections, perhaps, that some of the folks he may have appointed have to the Premier and his government? I don’t know the answer to that. None of us know the answer to that. Only the Premier knows the answer to that.
What I can tell you is that Ontarians deserve way better than that. We could actually, in our province, have transparency. We actually could have a situation where the government has done the right thing from day one and provided all of the information people needed to make decisions around their own well-being and the well-being of their loved ones. But that’s not how the Premier decided to roll with his responses to this pandemic.
Not only do we not know which category the long-term-care homes are in nor would the government be upfront and open about who was at the command table providing them advice, but they also had a number of these tables—we’ve all heard of them: the science table, the this table, the that table—and all of the experts that are sitting around the table were asked by the Premier to sign non-disclosure agreements—again, wanting to tamp down, wanting to put a cover over information, wanting to make sure that Ontarians didn’t get the information that they need and deserve.
It’s exactly the opposite of what the government should have been doing. All along, the government should have been as transparent and as open as possible, but unfortunately, I guess the Premier in his wisdom doesn’t believe that people deserve to have that kind of information. I think he’s wrong, because with more information, people can make better decisions and they can feel more engaged in their own commitment to the measures that need to be undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But our Premier, in his kind of paternalistic way, believed that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Well, what people didn’t know actually has led to a lot of death and a lot of terrible tragedies that people have had to deal with for almost a year now, Speaker. It’s just unbelievably inappropriate that this government refuses to provide information for people.
Here’s another example, and I want to read a little bit of a quote here. The most recent egregious example of this government and their use, or misuse, of information came just about a week and a half or so ago, when one of the government’s experts sitting at one of the expert advisory tables basically said that the government’s information was not accurate. In other words, the experts provided information to the government and the government, in the words of the expert, “twisted and misinterpreted” the expert advice. Why would a government twist and misinterpret expert advice? It makes no sense, Speaker. In fact, it’s quite irresponsible.
The other thing, just kind of another example, I guess, is the framework that the government announced in the fall in the first place, the framework of the various coloured zones that various communities would be categorized in depending on the risk level of the spread of the virus. The government claimed that they had the sign-off of their own experts on this particular framework, and then the next day, people were stunned: The experts themselves said no, it wasn’t the case, that the government didn’t have the green light. In fact, these particular folks were apparently not even consulted at all on what the framework looked like or what the final framework was going to look like.
It’s no wonder that people are worried about a third wave hitting Ontario. It’s no wonder that people are worried about the variants of concern, because they have a government that has not been upfront with them about the decisions they make, about the information they base their decisions on. As I said earlier, we’re heading into a disaster. The Premier has opened up this province too quickly, and all of the experts are saying that the likelihood is that we’re heading into a train wreck. They like to use language like, “Oh, we’re transitioning.” We’re transitioning over a cliff is what we’re doing.
This morning I was listening to some news, and I heard a business owner saying that, yes, her region has reopened as of today. On the one hand she feels kind of good about the fact that she might get a chance to rebuild her business, but her very next sentence was, “If we end up in another lockdown”—this is what she said—“which everybody thinks looks like it’s coming, then it’s not only my financials around whether I can yet again try to rebuild my business.” She said just the mental stamina, the mental health, the anguish of going through that process is something she doesn’t think she can handle for a third time. But that looks like where we’re headed, Speaker.
When it comes to the framework, the Minister of Health said this: “The framework was ‘designed after full consultation and advice’ from two expert advisory groups”—the public health measures table and the modelling consensus table. But then we hear from someone from one of the tables, Dr. Shelley Deeks, who said, “That surprised me. I’m not in agreement with the indicators as they are currently written in the framework.”
“Beate Sander, the co-chair of the COVID-19 modelling consensus table, said Minister Elliott ‘misspoke’ at a ... press conference when she said members of her group had provided advice.
“‘The modelling consensus table was not consulted.... The thresholds’” within that framework “‘are very, very high.’” People may remember that that forced the Premier to scramble and readjust those frameworks.
I could go on and on, Speaker. The reason I’m actually particularly talking about these pieces where the government has not provided accurate information or is refusing to listen to the experts is because these are the decisions that then impact our response to COVID-19 and how the province has done. I don’t think a single person in our province would say that the loss of 4,000 lives in long-term care is an indicator that the province did a good job in terms of the response to COVID-19. As I said, we are still seeing people lose their lives in long-term care to COVID-19 to this very day, and the province has been dealing with COVID-19 since March of last year. There’s just simply no excuse for it.
I do want to say that that is why we wanted a public inquiry. But even the commission that the Premier put together is not going to give Ontarians the answers that they deserve. We know that this government, that the Ford government has been stonewalling this commission from day one. We know that they’ve been refusing to release documents, to the point where the commission identified back in December, I think it was, that they’re not going to have time to get all of the information that they need to do a proper review of what’s been happening here in the province. And they asked the Minister of Long-Term Care for an extension beyond the original date.
What was the response? You would think if the government was interested in actually getting the information to Ontarians when it comes to the response to COVID-19 in long-term care that they would have provided the information, and when they found out that there wasn’t enough time, they would have obviously given the commission the time they needed to do the work. What is the Ford government afraid of? Why are they refusing to postpone the final date for this commission? You would think that it would be in the interest of Ontarians to make sure that that commission got all of the information it needed and all the time they needed to process that information and present recommendations and findings to the government. Well, that’s what Ontarians deserve. That’s certainly what Ontarians deserve. But that’s not what the Premier of the province wants. You have to ask yourself, why exactly is that?
I think it’s clear: It’s because they have no interest in doing what they claimed that they were going to do. That includes the Premier claiming, in the way that he does, that “people deserve all the answers and they’re going to get the answers. I’ll go to that commission myself and I’ll testify myself,” which we all know is not happening. In fact, finally, it looks like the Minister of Health and the Minister of Long-Term Care are going to be testifying this week, but we won’t know for possibly even weeks on end what that testimony is.
Look, I could talk about this all day long, Speaker. The bottom line is that we have a real problem with a government that hides information from the public, that’s refusing to do a thorough investigation into their failures that led to 4,000 deaths in long-term care. The people of Ontario deserve better than that. We are imploring the Premier to change his opinion, to change track right now and do what he promised Ontarians that he would do, which is to give the commission everything they need to come up with a proper review of what happened and with recommendations to make sure that this never happens again.
So I leave it at that. I know my colleagues have something to say about this as well, Speaker, but at the end of the day, what we need is a Premier that does the right thing by the people of Ontario, not by his own political skin and not to prevent the truth from coming out because he doesn’t like the truth, but actually showing the people of Ontario truthfully what the failures were that led to 4,000 people dying in long-term care. Sadly, the count is still on, Speaker.
I hope everybody in this chamber realizes that we have an obligation and a responsibility to Ontarians, that this tragedy is of such a scale that I don’t think anyone should sit here and suggest that shutting down the review into long-term care is the right thing to do. I’m hoping for the support of all members of the chamber, because that is the right thing to do. The commission was never what we wanted it to be in the first place, but the way that this government has dealt with it is even worse than the commission itself not being as effective as it could have been.
On that note, Speaker, I look forward to the remainder of the debate.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 3,800 residents have died. Those are moms, those are dads, they’re grandparents, they’re aunts, they’re uncles, they’re friends—3,800. There have been two interim reports from the commission with many recommendations, and many recommendations that have not been followed through on:
—a standard of four hours of care per day per resident;
—ensure that every home has a dedicated IPAC lead to ensure that proper protocols are being followed. Quebec has managed to do this;
—ensure a clear lead for quality of care in each home;
—reinstate the annual resident quality inspection in every home. The government, of course, only inspected 27 out of 626 homes in 2019; and
—to prioritize timely responses to non-compliant homes through increased enforcement.
Those haven’t been followed through on by the government, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care has twice refused information to the long-term-care commission. They’re holding it back. And now they’re saying, “We’re not going to give you an extension.” So clearly, there’s something afoot here.
The government is not really interested in what this commission—their own commission—has to report. They haven’t given them all the tools they need or the time they need to take care of this, and it doesn’t provide any justice for families. It does the opposite: no justice. It just frustrates families, the government’s response to their own commission.
There are so many questions that need to be answered. For instance, why did it take a month to stop workers from working in more than one home, a month more than BC? How come it took a month longer to raise the wages of PSWs than in Quebec and BC? How come, when homes in Ontario were begging for a plan, the minister didn’t listen, and nothing came until September? But Quebec said, “We need to hire 10,000,” so they went out to do that. They only got 7,000. Today, Ontario announced that we’ll have done just about 700 by the summer. That’s a good question to ask.
Vaccines: How is it we said, “We’ve got to get to those patients, those residents in long-term care. They’re our top priority, and we’re ready to do that,” but we finished two weeks behind every other province? We knew we had to get them there quickly. When the vaccines got here, while Quebec and BC were in long-term-care homes vaccinating residents, Ontario took a break. They took a holiday. The Ford government took a holiday from vaccinations and then didn’t move them into long-term care. That’s why we’re two weeks behind. It caused suffering and death in long-term care. Those are questions that needed to be answered.
Families are frustrated because the government won’t grant an extension. They are frustrated by the government’s answers when they get there. The purpose of the commission is to take a look at long-term care and, right now especially, the government’s response to COVID-19. The commission has asked for extra time. Every member of this House has families who want answers, and we should all vote to grant that extension.
The Leader of the Opposition, before and during the commission’s mandate, has relied on incorrect assumptions and suggestive innuendo to criticize the commissioners. She said many times in the House that the commission lacked specific powers under the Public Inquiries Act. She was wrong. In a reply letter to her, they wrote, “The commission has an array of investigative tools, including those under s. 33 of the Public Inquiries Act.” In her zeal to prove a point, she cherry-picked one sentence out of a five-paragraph letter. She has portrayed the commissioners as government lackeys; they are far from it. They are eminently respected members of their fields: the law, medicine and public service.
Over the last several months, the commissioners have searched far and wide and have met with residents and their families, caregivers, staff, home operators, advocates, professional organizations, labour leadership, government officials, experts and many others, and heard what they’ve had to say. They have released more than 6,000 pages of transcripts from those meetings and the copies of the presentations made. They are operating on a historic scale, and we are co-operating with them to coordinate the historic number of documents that they have requested.
We have retained a third-party vendor to assist in producing these documents. That vendor is following an established protocol that the commission has agreed to. Requests are still coming in, and as they come in they are processed. Some of those are being turned over in 24 hours. To date, more than 60,000 unique documents have been shared with the commission.
The commission has provided two sets of interim recommendations, on October 23 and December 4, 2020. Many of the recommendations are consistent with our work to solve the systemic challenges facing the long-term-care system, and we have communicated that to the commissioners. We are making meaningful progress in the areas they cited: staffing, inspections, IPAC, visitor access, improved sector collaboration, and improved performance indicators. We have invested $1.38 billion since the onset of the pandemic to protect residents, caregivers and staff, and we are committed to stabilizing and modernizing the sector.
We appreciate all that the commission has done so far. I look forward to meeting with them later this week—sorry, that’s on behalf of the minister—and I look forward to seeing their final recommendations. Their contributions will supplement the work our government is doing and will help us move forward as we repair, rebuild and advance long-term care in Ontario.
I would ask the opposition, yet again, to join us in doing this productive, important work.
I’m proud to rise here today and contribute to the debate and thank the Leader of the Opposition for bringing forward this important motion.
As we’ve heard, the long-term-care commission is looking for an extension, and that is exactly what this motion seeks to do: help grant that extension so that they can carry out the work that they need to do, so they can provide the transparency and accountability that families in the province are looking for and that we can ensure that what we experienced throughout the pandemic never happens again in our long-term-care homes. But without the commission being able to do their work, we will never get those answers.
The pandemic has clearly shown us that our long-term-care system is broken here in the province of Ontario. We’ve all heard the horrors of long-term care caused by neglect from the previous Liberal government and privatization in long-term care.
But this is exactly why New Democrats asked for a public inquiry: to understand what went wrong and to ensure that it would never happen again. Instead, the government responded with a commission. This is their own commission, and yet when this commission is asking for more time to actually dig into the issues of the day and understand how to prevent them from happening again, the government is blocking them from carrying out that work. Not only do they not want to grant an extension for them to continue this work, they don’t even want to provide the documents necessary for them to understand what is going on in long-term care.
We heard from the commission why they’re requesting this extension:
“Notwithstanding the work to date, the commission continues to encounter significant delays in obtaining government information central to the commission’s investigation. Most documents responsive to the commission’s document summonses and requests remain outstanding....
“In light of the ongoing pandemic, the commission’s outstanding requests for information, and the volume of data that the commission anticipates receiving, we are writing to request an extension to the deadline for the commission’s final report to December 31, 2021.”
And that’s exactly what we’re asking. We are supporting that request so that important work can actually be carried out here in the province of Ontario, that we don’t just rush this through, because I think, as all members on this side of the House understand, families deserve better. They deserve those answers, and this province needs to understand what happened and how this government handled its approach to long-term care. But without those documents being provided, without this extension being granted, we may not fully understand the scope of what we need to do to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
I really question why the government would not want to grant an extension to its own commission to carry out this important work. We already understand that the commission is overwhelmed with the amount of information in the short period of time that it is being asked to carry it out. The extension isn’t so that reports wouldn’t be coming forward, as some members on the other side are insinuating; it’s so that work would continue on—so that it isn’t just a hasty inquiry into what happened; it’s actually a thoughtful process that allows us to understand what we need to do.
There are still so many questions that are remaining. Families want to understand what this government has done to help address the staffing shortage in our long-term-care homes. Families want to understand if you actually increased infection control measures, as you continue to state that you have. They want to know exactly how many homes have those IPAC recommendations put in place and how many PSWs did you actually hire. But when given the opportunity to answer those questions here in the House or through your commission, this government chooses not to provide that transparency, those reassurances and accountability to the people of this province.
We still hear that many people who are actually providing advice and insights into the handling of the pandemic are actually being sidelined, their voices are being silenced by this government. This is what the commission is starting to reveal. So why not allow more space, more time, more transparency, more accountability through the commission, as this motion seeks to achieve? Why not allow that? That’s exactly why we’re going to continue fighting, Speaker, on this side of the House, because families in this province deserve answers. Seniors in this province deserve answers. We need to fix a broken system, and the way to do that is to ensure that this commission has the tools, the resources and the time to actually carry that out.
I am proud to rise here today, not only as the member in Brampton Centre but as the newly appointed critic for long-term care, home care and seniors, and support the Leader of the Opposition’s call for this commission’s deadline to be extended and for those documents to be made transparent so that the public has the information they need, and this province can actually fix our long-term-care system and make sure that people don’t continue to suffer here in the province of Ontario.
The fact that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on long-term-care patients, their families and staff isn’t debatable, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Everyone agrees that we need to do better. To do that, we need to understand fully why the current system has not worked to protect our loved ones. We need to not be afraid to uncover the truth about our failure and we especially need to understand and be provided with clear recommendations as to how to fix our long-term-care system, because the status quo is not an option. The work of the commission should do precisely that, and it has indicated clearly that it is not done and needs more time to accomplish its mandate.
We are still very much in the midst of this pandemic, and we need to continue to collect information and hear people out. We cannot afford to fail by not getting to the bottom of this. There is no room for resistance. I find it completely unacceptable that the commission had to raise concerns publicly about the government’s delays in providing documents and records. The failure of the government to provide the requested information in a timely manner should not prevent the commission from doing the work it was mandated to do. Their work is tireless and crucial to the future of our long-term-care homes. Why would this government want to cut this process off before it is completed?
We need to get this right and make sure we have comprehensive and meaningful recommendations to fix the broken system and stop the flow of suffering. I agree with my colleagues and urge the government to grant the extension requested by the commission and release all requested documents.
I know our Minister of Long-Term Care and her team are profoundly aware of this grave reality every single day. This is the very reason why our government established a commission to investigate COVID-19 in long-term-care homes, with a defined time frame. We knew that we did not have the luxury of time to make this a long, drawn-out process.
Ontarians have questions that deserve to be answered. We all agree on that here, and we need those questions answered in a timely way. That’s why our government expedited the commission’s start date from September to July. It’s also why we welcomed the commission’s two sets of interim recommendations, which they released in October and December of last year. The commission is doing extensive and independent work.
As part of our government’s commitment to transparency about the commission’s work, I want members of the public watching, and the opposition, to know that inspection reports are public, pandemic data sets are accessible online, 6,000 pages of transcripts and presentations from everyone involved in the pandemic response are available on the commission’s website if you would like to go through that at home, and updates from the health coordination table and provincial command table are also posted.
To coordinate the historic scale of documents requested by the commission, our government retained a third-party vendor to assist in the production of documents. That vendor is following an established protocol for document production. To date, as my colleague mentioned, more than 60,000 unique documents have been shared with the commission as part of this effort in transparency. As requests for documents come in, they’re processed and produced.
On behalf of my constituents in Durham, I would like to thank the commissioners for their work to date, and I look forward to seeing their final recommendations in late April so we can act on them. This debate gives the opportunity to look at the work the commissioners have done thus far and to share with this House and with Ontarians how our government has already acted on the recommendations we have received. This discussion today allows our government to provide an update on our long-term-care system in Ontario and to highlight how we’re working to build a stronger and safer system.
The commissioners’ interim recommendations were broad-based and covered a number of aspects of long-term care, but in the time we have today I would like to focus on two areas highlighted by the commissioners: staffing and visitor policy.
Overall, we see the commissioners’ recommendations are largely aligned with our government’s aggressive modernization agenda for a long-term-care system that has suffered from decades of neglect. While the challenges that have been built up over those decades of neglect will not disappear overnight, even so we need to relentlessly take steps forward to move the sector ahead until we see it dramatically improved. This is the priority of our Minister of Long-Term Care and of our entire government. We are committed to this.
Before I get into staffing and visitor policies, I do want to quickly highlight some of the movement on getting new beds built in Durham region, the area I represent. I want to thank our Minister of Long-Term Care, who has pushed forward a number of long-term-care projects in Durham region. The Ministry of Long-Term Care is helping fund a new, modern, 224-bed home in Bowmanville that will replace Glen Hill Strathaven. I want to add that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing broke down silos, working across government to support this project by reducing red tape and using a minister’s zoning order to rezone the land donated for this build. Some estimates say this likely will shave a year off the timelines for this project.
In addition to that acceleration, on July 28, 2020, our government announced a collaborative partnership with Lakeridge Health and Infrastructure Ontario to build a new, modern, long-term-care home on the site of the Ajax Pickering Hospital, using an accelerated build process. This new home will have up to 320 new beds, using an innovative design-build process.
Just those two projects alone add up to about 540 new beds that will actually get built in Durham region. This will be a huge step forward, considering that the previous government, supported by the NDP, only actually built 611 new beds across the whole province between 2011 and 2018, leaving the Central East LHIN, including Durham region, with the longest wait-times in the province. I must say, I was really entertained by the independent Liberal member attempting to give us lessons on how to more quickly improve long-term care while saying we should also delay the recommendations from the commission.
Many of those long-term-care beds in Durham region that were left neglected were constructed before 1970 and are in dire need of renovation. Many are known as class C beds, which means they were built to old, outdated building standards. These are the homes we often hear about that see four people in one room. We need to transition away from this arrangement, and those are the steps we’re taking in Durham region. Our community is eagerly looking forward to these projects being completed. I speak to seniors on the phone every day who are looking forward to that.
A key element of this government’s aggressive modernization agenda is the ongoing work to ensure that proper staffing is in place to improve resident quality of care and quality of life. Even before the interim recommendations had been released, all of us in the House had heard from our constituents, especially long-term-care residents and their families, that we needed more staff and that better working conditions were needed to ensure residents receive the high-quality care they deserve.
Over the past year and a half, our government has taken major steps forward to address these urgent staff shortages. During the pandemic, these steps have included investing more than half a billion dollars to prevent and contain COVID-19, and to recruit, educate and retain more health care workers in long-term care.
But there also needs to be a fundamental shift to address the long-standing staffing issues that existed before the pandemic and would continue after the pandemic without further action. That’s why, in December, our government launched A Better Place to Live, A Better Place to Work: Ontario’s Long-Term Care Staffing Plan. At the centre of this plan is our commitment to increase the hours of direct care for residents to an average of four hours per day over four years. And let me emphasize, this is unprecedented—a first in our country.
But how do we get there? This will be a big undertaking, and delivering on this commitment will require the education and training of new health care professionals to fill the more than what’s estimated to be 27,000 full-time positions which will need to be filled to achieve this standard. This plan sets out actions to hire more staff and improve the working conditions for existing staff so we can retain them. The plan I’m referencing focuses on six key areas of action delivered over four years.
(1) Investing up to $1.9 billion annually by 2024-25 to create those more than 27,000 new positions for personal support workers, registered nurses and registered practical nurses in long-term care to meet the direct care commitment. But that also includes providing a 20% increase in direct care time administered by other health care professionals, such as physiotherapists and social workers.
(2) The plan accelerates and expands education and training pathways and programs to train the thousands of new staff we will need.
(3) The plan supports continued professional development and growth of long-term-care staff to improve retention.
(4) It improves working conditions for staff by coordinating with long-term-care employers to increase full-time employment opportunities and promote innovative approaches to work and technology. I think we’ve all heard about examples of our own constituents who have to work in a number of different homes because they don’t have a full-time position. We need to improve that across the province.
(5) We need to drive effective and accountable leadership in homes across the province to improve oversight, guidance and medical outcomes in long-term-care homes.
(6) We’re measuring progress against major performance indicators. If you can’t measure something, it’s very difficult to manage it.
The objectives set out in this staffing plan, if achieved, will go a long way to making long-term care a better place for residents to live and a better place for staff to work. As the plan continues to roll out, the minister and our government are taking steady, significant steps to provide the resources needed to fund both the immediate needs of the sector as well as the long-term staffing plan.
Importantly, we also understand that traditional educational pathways at current enrolment levels will not be enough to build the team of qualified health care professionals we desperately need, so our government is working collaboratively with sector partners to implement innovative approaches to develop that required pipeline.
Take, for example, the Willis College personal support worker program that was recently launched. This scholarship program follows a new delivery model. It will not only offer students a strong knowledge base, but actually put them on the job, get some on-the-job experience well before their clinical placement, thereby making candidates better equipped and more quickly equipped for their roles. This program will train up to 300 personal support workers to work in long-term-care homes in the Ottawa area.
Just this morning, our Minister of Long-Term Care, always working to improve, announced $4.1 million in funding to eight projects across our province that will train 373 new PSWs, and she made that announcement with our Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. This funding will also be used to develop educational resources to minimize PSWs’ exposure to infection. Some projects have already begun, while others will start later in the spring and run for several weeks or months. Our government will continue to significantly invest in our long-term-care staff, so that they can continue to provide the best possible care to those in our long-term-care homes, both now and into the future.
I mentioned working with long-term-care employers to increase full-time employment. This is an example where collaboration will be needed to meet the objectives laid out in our staffing plan. This work will be led by the associations representing long-term-care home operators of all types, and they will consider potential barriers to full-time work, such as scheduling challenges in a 24/7 environment. The minister is also continuing to work with employers, associations and unions to address other working conditions, as well.
On the topic of visitor policies, which I know many members in this place are interested in: I think we all know that loved ones play an irreplaceable role in the lives of seniors and long-term-care residents. They bring care, comfort and joy, and they’re often a lifeline for residents. Understanding this, our government moved cautiously to balance these important visits with the need to safeguard the health of residents and staff and the need to mitigate any risks related to COVID-19.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved in Ontario, the direction on visits at long-term-care homes has been continually updated and adjusted, keeping that necessary balance between the safety and emotional well-being of both residents and staff at the forefront.
After announcing the gradual resumption of visits to long-term-care homes in June, our government updated the visitor policy to ensure operators implemented consistent visiting practices across the province. The updated visitor policy released in September 2020 helped clarify that essential caregivers are allowed to visit homes and provide essential care, including during an outbreak, subject to direction from the local public health unit. We know that caregivers are essential visitors and important partners who provide direct care to residents, which is also why our government has prioritized providing the vaccine to those very essential caregivers.
As I conclude, I’d like to say that when COVID-19 came upon us over a year ago, we could not have predicted the impact it would have on our entire province. We’ve all had to respond and we were challenged to respond with both wisdom and courage.
Speaker, when you move quickly responding to an unprecedented crisis, government is not going to be perfect. We have had to be agile, to continue to improve and adjust and learn from our partners and from each other in this place. I marvel at the dedication and courage of those who work every day to make our long-term-care homes in our ridings a better place. As the MPP for Durham I will continue to advocate for improved conditions for those in long-term care in my riding. Our seniors are depending on us as their elected leaders.
Our parents, our grandparents and their friends are the ones who built our great nation that in so many ways is the envy of the world. Now it is our time to build for them, to build the care system that meets their needs as they age. We look forward to receiving the commission’s final recommendations. I know our Minister of Long-Term Care and her team plan to not stop or slow down as they work with stakeholders across the health care sector to build a long-term-care system that rises to meet the needs of the 21st century.
I’m going to call the PSW Danielle, because she’s worried about using her real name. She’s a PSW who works in one of the Extendicare locations in Sudbury, with more than a decade of experience, and she has never, ever seen long-term care this bad. She talks about always running short: not enough time to get residents ready, not enough time to bathe them and not enough time to feed them; about constantly missing their breaks, always having to work late unpaid, having to come in on their days off to get swabbed—and that, too, is unpaid. PSWs on her shift work four on, one off, four on, two off. So on that one day off, they’re forced to come back to the workplace to get a swab for a COVID-19 test, unpaid. On the two days off every two weeks, they’re forced to come back to get a COVID-19 swab, unpaid. Danielle sees the same problems for her co-workers—she talked about RPNs who are working short, and they’re burning out as well.
I mentioned that Danielle is a pseudonym. She is a PSW. She’s a constituent from Sudbury. She said, “You can only share my story if you don’t use my name, because Extendicare will make my life a living hell. I’ve seen it before, and I won’t go through it.”
I want to talk about Tom Andruschuk. His wife was abused in long-term care. Once it happened right in front of his eyes. He was outraged, just like any spouse would be. He followed all the right steps. He spoke to those who were in charge of the facility. He filed a complaint with the Ministry of Long-Term Care. They did an investigation, but it went nowhere. The ministry denied that the events had taken place, even though he saw them with his own eyes, even though he documented them. Nothing was done. The final report showed no non-compliance. Tom has been trying to get justice ever since, but he has hit roadblock after roadblock with this government. He refuses to give up because he doesn’t want this to happen to other people in long-term care.
These two people, Tom and Danielle, are only two of thousands of people—thousands and thousands directly impacted by long-term care, and thousands more across Sudbury, thousands more across the province who want long-term care to finally be fixed and who deserve to have the long-term-care commission have all the resources and time they need to make those recommendations so we finally fix this.
Madam Speaker, we owe it to the people who have lost their lives and the people who have lost loved ones to give the commission time to do its work thoroughly.
As of this morning, there were 14,935 COVID-19 cases in long-term care and, sadly and tragically, 3,734 deaths; and there have been 6,580 LTC staff cases and 11 deaths. It’s hard for all of us to think about, because those are real people—grandparents, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, parents.
The government seems to want us to have to make a choice: Are we going to do this quickly so we can get some recommendations out right away, or are we going to take the time to be comprehensive in our approach? I would say that we don’t have to make that choice. We can do both.
The commission has already brought forward two interim reports, on October 23 and December 4, and they’ve pointed out so much of what many of us knew: that we need a minimum standard of care of at least four hours a day; we need more staff; we need to pay those staff a living wage; we need to guarantee them full-time work; we need safer buildings; we need better infection control protocols; we need essential visitor protocols.
We also need to know that, despite what’s out there, not everyone in long-term care has been vaccinated as of today. I have at least one of my constituents reaching out to me and saying that her father, who lives in a long-term-care home, hasn’t been vaccinated.
So, yes, there are some immediate issues we need to address, but we know there are systemic changes that need to take place in the way we care for elders in long-term-care homes and in our communities and in their homes. That is why I think many of us wanted to see a public inquiry that was completely independent, so we could have that independent, transparent process. But if the government wants to go with the commission, at least allow the commission to do its job.
I want to quote from the commission’s December 9 letter, where they said that it’s hard to be comprehensive when “The commission continues to encounter significant delays in obtaining government information central to the commission’s investigation. Most documents responsive to the commission’s document summonses and requests remain outstanding.”
Speaker, we owe it to everyone in long-term care and their loved ones to do this right and to give the commission the time to get the documents they need and do the work they need. That’s the least we can do, and I encourage everyone in this House to support this motion.
Today’s opposition motion is correct in this respect: The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating. As a province and as a government, we grieve with those families who have lost loved ones in long-term care.
Ever since I was first elected, I have advocated for long-term-care homes in my riding. I have advocated for the staff, families and residents that I represent. I have advocated for homes in all sectors: for-profit, not-for-profit and municipal homes. In Perth–Wellington, we have dedicated staff and administration in homes of all types, working hard for the residents in their care. I have advocated for more beds and more resources, and I have advocated for beds in rural and small-town Ontario, in particular.
In 2017, when the former government was considering a proposal to transfer up to 50 of our beds out of Perth county, we stopped it in its tracks. And do you know what we found? People care about long-term care. They understand its value—so much that they are willing to mobilize, to write letters, to sign petitions, to speak up for their families and communities. When there are challenges in long-term care, people take notice, and that’s what we’re seeing here again today.
Yet for all the challenges we are seeing, it would be simplistic and incorrect to say that it’s all bad news. In June, I spoke in the Legislature about homes in Perth–Wellington and how they responded to the COVID-19 crisis. I said in part, “People who worked long hours away from their families, people who pushed themselves working way beyond their job description, people who accepted the risk, not knowing how much PPE was left or whether they might come down with COVID, people who kept coming back to work day after day: I want to thank them at every home in Perth–Wellington. The rest of us will never know fully their contributions. I also want to thank the people and businesses who donated PPE, food or finances.
“But there’s more that we can do to help. For many families unable to visit loved ones, it has been a long, tough road. We want to visit them; they want to see us too.”
In September, I again raised the long-term care in this Legislature. I spoke about the challenges ahead of us. I said many more of us will need long-term care. We will need more staff, PSWs, nurses, administrators, activity coordinators, volunteers and many others. We’ll need modern and accessible buildings because these buildings are the residents’ homes. We’ll need them in the cities, in small towns and in the country. And all of them will need to be prepared for future pandemics.
Our government has heard this message and it is responding to this need. I would like to name just one example. In November, we announced that direct care provided to each long-term-care resident will increase to an average of four hours per day. That will mean educating and recruiting tens of thousands of new personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses we need.
Of course, in the wake of the tragedy that met so many long-term-care homes during COVID-19, the government established the independent commission. Its goal was to provide a timely, transparent and non-partisan investigation and to deliver advice on better protecting long-term-care homes, residents and staff. The commissioners continued to do that, and they are doing good work. From the beginning, the commission was asked to provide its final report by April 30. That is because the situation was urgent, and it’s still urgent. Even as the commission is still completing its work, our government is not waiting to act.
I want to talk about three key areas of the commission’s interim recommendations: infection prevention and control; leadership and accountability in our homes; and inspection.
Improving infection prevention and control has been a major priority of this government. The commission already made some recommendations on this, and we are acting on them. They recommended that every long-term-care home have a dedicated and accountable infection prevention and control lead. They recommended that all staff have basic training and access to the local infection prevention and control centre of expertise.
Today, I’m told we have infection prevention and control hubs and outbreak management teams in place to support homes. We are also funding dedicated personnel for training and education and much more. I am pleased to see that the ministry is collaborating as outbreaks occur, hiring more inspectors and evaluating resource needs.
Another recommendation was to increase testing for residents and staff. As of last week, I’m told that Ontario Health has shipped more than 1.25 million rapid test kits to 521 long-term-care homes.
Another thing from the commission’s recommendations is leadership and accountability. The interim recommendation was to require a lead for quality of care in long-term-care homes and to fund it properly, and the ministry is responding.
The commission has made two recommendations around performance indicators and accountability. The first recommendation is that we include performance metrics such as resident and family satisfaction, staff engagement, staffing levels and supply of PPE in long-term-care home performance reports. The government is developing a quality framework for this purpose.
I’ve always believed that residents and families need to be involved and need to be heard. I’m so very pleased the government is listening to their views on quality of care and quality of life.
The second interim recommendation is that we publicly post performance reports so that the people can see for themselves how their local homes are working. The ministry is working on this to support informed decision-making by and for long-term-care residents.
Finally, the ministry is working to do the inspections necessary to keep homes safe. During the pandemic, ministry inspectors have continued to look for risks of potential harm to residents. They are also responding to concerns from residents and families. Where there are critical issues, we’re making sure that homes have what they need to fix them.
The ministry has also heard concerns from the public and the commissioners about the frequency of inspections. That’s why the ministry is looking at proactive inspections. This will complement inspections responding to complaints or critical incidents.
The final recommendation calls for better collaboration and information-sharing between ministries. Long-term-care homes are inspected by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, Public Health Ontario and the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. Homes are inspected and inspected again.
I have often said there are so many good homes and so many dedicated staff members who work there. They are working hard, to say the least, but we need more of them. Our government is on track to build 30,000 new long-term-care spaces over 10 years. We need these beds, and we’re getting ready to build them, even during a pandemic. The modernized funding model will help. For homes in Perth–Wellington, it will mean about $991,000 for homes in every part of the riding.
We’re also going to make sure that every new home is built to modern standards. They will consider infection prevention and control and containment, and they will replace ward rooms with single- and double-occupancy rooms.
In November, the government announced 29 new development projects across the province. These will create almost 2,000 new spaces and over 1,000 upgraded spaces. Today, we have over 22,000 safe, modern spaces in the pipeline. We need to keep going and we need to keep working.
Finally, Speaker, I would like to tell you about an incident in Perth–Wellington which just makes me so proud of how people can work together. We had a couple of outbreaks in some long-term-care homes. Our public health team and our family health teams jumped in and mitigated the outbreaks in a very short manner of time. That meant that patients who had to go to hospitals were located in the hospitals; that meant patients who could stay in their homes stayed in their homes. Workers who had COVID-19 were isolated, and these outbreaks were contained and they were over in a short period of time.
I want to give a shout-out to all the health care workers, especially those involved in outbreaks, that mitigated the circumstances and made sure that not one of our homes is in outbreak right now. I want to say thank you to all those people in my riding of Perth–Wellington.
Speaker, what we have seen is no accountability. There has been no independent or judicial review. The commission that we’re talking about today was not that. It is a creature of the province. It is what we have, and that’s why today we are asking that it be granted what is it asking for to do the work that it says it needs to be able to do.
The government has made it easier for private, corporate, for-profit homes to avoid being sued. Families do not have the accountability that they deserve. I have a quote here from Melissa Miller, who is a partner with Howie, Sacks and Henry. She’s representing families of Orchard Villa. She says, “I support this motion! ... I think it is important to remember that the families wanted a complete public inquiry and” the Premier “rejected the idea in favour of the commission. The family and the public deserve the most fulsome report by the commission, so” the Premier “should not take any further shortcuts in that regard.”
Hear, hear, Mr. Speaker.
My colleagues and I have been calling for a full and accountable inquiry into long-term-care homes—first Orchard Villa, but we see the need across communities. I have written a letter—weird that I haven’t gotten a response from this Premier—dated February 9, calling for a public inquiry, alongside municipalities and the region in my area, with a focus on Sunnycrest and ThorntonView.
This government has answers that it needs to provide to families. Today is an opportunity for them to do that.
I really would have hoped that the government would be listening and would have taken this debate even more seriously. I would have hoped that the minister herself would have been here or any member, frankly, from cabinet—
It was March 11, 2020, when I asked this House to close the doors in long-term care on the virus. The government dragged its feet. It didn’t move as quickly as it could have to protect residents in long-term care.
When we look at what happened over the summer, when the virus was abating slightly, Quebec took steps, hired orderlies, trained them and paid them while they were being trained. Now they are managing and coping, and we are still here in Ontario with the ravages of this virus in our long-term-care system.
When I look at the effects on Scarborough and the devastating impact—I have friends who have lost parents, who have lost partners. There is so much mourning in my community as a result of the effects of COVID-19.
Since March, we have lost 3,745 residents of long-term care and 11 staff members. The first PSW to lose her life during this virus was in Scarborough. When it comes to doing all that we can, how will we know that, if we cut off the commission’s work, if we delay requests for documents—simple transparency—if we don’t want to hear the hard news?
What are we going to say to the 81 residents of Tendercare Living, whose loved ones are in mourning right now; or the 43 residents of the Midland Gardens Care Community; or Kennedy Lodge, that lost 41 of their residents; Extendicare Guildwood, 48; Seven Oaks, in my community, 41 residents? What are we going to say to Greg McVeigh? Nine days apart, he lost both parents in long-term care.
This government didn’t even have the decency to allow proper submissions at the committee level—
What I haven’t heard from anyone is the ability and the imperative, lest members here—like the member from Durham, who mentioned it and spoke very eloquently—on the need to act now, to get these recommendations now and act to improve the situation. I heard the member speak to systemic changes, systemic changes that are needed in the long-term-care system, so I’d like to speak to some of those systemic changes that we have witnessed in Northumberland–Peterborough South and that were so desperately needed.
The $1.9 billion invested in staffing: What does that mean? That means training 27,000 workers to work in long-term care. That’s a commitment that this minister made. This is from a staffing strategy that this minister launched long before COVID. This is a commitment this government made, recognizing the failures of previous governments.
Today’s announcement to train PSWs that my colleague from Durham mentioned is yet another step in the right direction for bringing more PSWs online. You will never hear members opposite talk about the impact that this is having on youth at Mohawk, about the impact that this is having on youth at Loyalist and other colleges, both public and private career colleges that are training the workforce of tomorrow, to get them involved to work in the long-term-care homes.
When COVID-19 hit, the government moved swiftly. We implemented regular surveillance testing, universal masking, pandemic pay, PPE. Again, we could have sat back, and we’ve seen some of the challenges on not moving quickly to build up domestic supply with our vaccine rollout. But this Premier, under a scope that he had direct control over, with PPE, moved quickly and launched the Ontario Together portal.
We saw manufacturers pivoting across Ontario to respond to the need. What does that mean? That means that that PPE is now being utilized by our heroes on the front line to protect the residents in long-term care. This Premier moved quickly. You’ll never hear that from the members opposite.
Madam Speaker, we’ve heard a lot about systemic changes, and they’ll continue to heckle because they don’t want to hear the actual measures. You’ll never hear the tangible recommendations. I’ve never heard comments on the micro-credentialing strategy. It’s partly because we’re the first government—first government in North America, I believe; certainly first government in Canada—to be implementing a comprehensive micro-credentialing strategy. What does that mean? That means education pathways. That means laddering so that PSWs, so that health care professionals can see a future in their career. Learning is no longer a thing of a defined, finite amount of years following graduation from high school. Lifelong learning must occur for us to be responsive to the needs in long-term care. That’s something this Premier recognizes. That’s something this government is swiftly moving on.
I’ll cite another example: stand-alone nursing. This one hits close to home for residents of Northumberland–Peterborough South. Loyalist College, for example, who had to partner with universities—this was under archaic policies of the previous government—now can offer stand-alone degree-granting. That means that our nurses can stay in rural Ontario. My colleague the member from Perth–Wellington spoke about the importance of maintaining and keeping that human resource capacity in rural Ontario. That’s what this government is doing.
Finally, the four hours of direct care: I would like to thank the member opposite, I believe from London–Fanshawe, who has been an important advocate. That’s what happens when you don’t foment fear, when you don’t mislead Ontarians, but you work collaboratively.
That’s what happens when you work collaboratively, when you bring forward good ideas. That member has spoken eloquently. I’ve heard her a number of times talking about four hours of direct care, and that’s what this government has acted upon. We’ve launched a $1.9-billion investment to help train the human resource capacity to deliver. As much as we all would like to admit—we can’t click our fingers together and have the human resource capacity to deliver this tomorrow, but we can make tangible investments and move quickly to do this, and that’s exactly what this government is doing.
I’ve spoken a bit about staffing. I’d like to shift to structural changes. The structures that were allowed to dilapidate under the previous government, supported and enabled at every step of the way by the members opposite, Madam Speaker—we’ve made a record investment, $1.75 billion, to accelerate the builds. What does that mean? I know people look at home and often wonder, $1.75 billion—that means a golden plow.
We now have shovels in the ground. That means that skilled trade workers, contractors in Northumberland–Peterborough South, are working today to build the homes of tomorrow in Northumberland–Peterborough South right now. That means Pleasant Meadow Manor in Norwood has broken ground as well.
What does this mean to the workers? It doesn’t mean disenfranchising them, as the members opposite would do by advocating that we shut down half the capacity in long-term care. For the workers who get up every day, who have developed those bonds, those family bonds with our seniors in long-term care, who are scared—I’ll reference one who spoke to me. I’m going to use a different name, too, because she fears retribution at the hands of different organizations and at the hands of activists encouraged by the members opposite for speaking out.
She said, “David, when I heard that the New Democratic Party was advocating for me to be given a pink slip, to shut down my facility, it scared me.” She went home that night scared. That’s not the job of this Legislature. We know that there are problems, but I think we can work collaboratively in highlighting and working with the for-profit and not-for profit sectors. There are right questions that need to be asked about what’s going on in this system, both in for-profit and in not-for profit, but we want to work collaboratively.
When this worker reached out, she was scared. This doesn’t help improve our system. We need to be working collaboratively. We need to be listening to the commission. We need to be empowering them, which is exactly what this government is doing. And I’d like to speak and turn to that. I’d like to reference, exactly, a quote that the Leader of the Opposition has made here in this House. She said, “That’s what’s wrong with a commission”—and I quote, on May 19—“because it is going to be utilized to back up whatever the government decides they want to have public.”
And, again, on that same day, this is “a backroom kind of deal cooked up with some commissioner or some commission that will justify everything they’ve already said and done and will justify recommendations that they already have written.” Then, on the same day, “No one has asked for yet another Ford-government-controlled commission.”
“People deserve more than a government-controlled commission.” She has gone on record numerous times saying that.
Madam Speaker, this sort of language that’s being used, the fomenting hatred that’s embedded in this speech, does nothing to improve long-term care, does nothing to benefit the system at all. These commissioners are legitimate. This commission is legitimate. They’re highly respected, highly experienced. And to see the pivot in discourse, now we hear from the Leader of the Opposition that we do want to listen to the commission. Well, on this side of the House, from day one we’ve known that, and we’re working actively with those commissioners. In fact, we have turned over more than 60,000 unique documents.
So again, rather than highlighting any nuance, the Leader of the Opposition will tell Ontarians that there is nothing being provided to them when we know that’s patently false: 60,000 unique documents have been handed over to that commission. That’s unprecedented. I’m not aware—granted I’m a first-time MPP elected on a wave of Ontarians that disapproved of the systemic failures of the previous government, enabled in large part by the New Democratic Party, so I’m unaware of that sort of unprecedented work that’s gone on.
In fact, we also heard—to add to the inflammatory language from the Leader of the Opposition—the term “cover-up” used as recently as September. This politically charged language does nothing to address the systemic failures that I think we can all agree have occurred in long-term care. Madam Speaker, how can anyone take the words of that member seriously? This is an unprecedented tragedy that has unfolded in our province’s long-term-care system, strained by decades of neglect.
Madam Speaker, I’ll draw you back to the work that’s being done, because I will not stand and dignify some of the inflammatory language used by the Leader of the Opposition with any more of a response—
I’m going to draw this back to the systemic structural changes and the staffing changes that our government has initiated, the structural changes that have meant accelerated builds: 23,000-plus beds right now in the pipeline, either being renovated or new beds coming online. What does that mean? That means that we know statistically that the spread of COVID-19 which occurred in long-term-care facilities, in large part driven by ward rooms—those are now being moved to private and semi-private rooms. Those are facts. That’s a tangible recommendation that we’re acting upon. That’s movement that’s needed to occur. In fact, those are investments that were committed to in the last election and that we started long before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those meaningful changes mean shovels in ground, mean new facilities for our loved ones to have the dignity of aging in. And the workers that support them, who’ve become family members, who want to know, “What’s happening for me?”—the pandemic pay meant that some of those vital workers, that we all rightly call heroes, that meant that they’ve had a bump in pay. We’ve undertaken a staffing strategy to address compensation.
Madam Speaker, we’ve worked on the laddering, the micro-credentials, the stand-alone degree granting. We’ve come forward in this place with meaningful ideas, meaningful measures to improve the systemic failures, and at every stage, it’s been voted against by the members opposite. They voted against that young PSW who wants to continue their learning and see a future with our micro-credential strategy. They voted against that. They voted against the workers who want to give more time to our loved ones, who have now become their loved ones and family. They voted against that.
Madam Speaker, I will close by saying they voted against that because this is more about politics and less about addressing the systemic change. On this side of the House, every day, we’re going to work hard to address the systemic failures of the decades of neglect of previous governments.
But I want to talk really quickly about what happened with the Canadian military and what they told you guys was wrong in the first wave of COVID-19, as we had people dying. What did you do? You didn’t do anything, quite frankly. And what happened? We see it right here. Right in my own riding, 365 people have lost their lives in long-term care and retirement homes. At Millennium Trail, 18 people died; Crescent Park, 14; Lundy Manor, 20; and the one that had the worst outbreak in the province, Oakwood Park Lodge, had 100% of the residents and 100% of the staff who have COVID-19 and they had to bring in Niagara Health because they didn’t have staffing.
Staffing, staffing, staffing: Quebec hired 7,000; BC, 7,000. What did you guys do? You did nothing for nine, 10 months, and what was the result? The result was that people died in long-term-care facilities. In one of the facilities that I represent, a mom and dad died within 24 hours. Do you know what it’s like to bury a parent? Imagine burying two in one day—that could have been preventable. That’s the issue here: This could have been preventable in the second wave. We could have made sure we had proper PPE. We could have made sure that we had proper staffing. But you guys decided not to do that. You decided to allow Niagara to have COVID outbreaks, to have people in Niagara die. That’s what happened.
And then the last thing I’m going to talk about—they don’t give me a lot of time to talk here—vaccines in my riding: 5,000 Moderna vaccines were coming to Niagara to help save lives in Niagara, and what does this government do? They diverted them to somewhere else. And do you know what else they didn’t do? They won’t tell me where they went. We’ve been asking for months. It has been in the paper. I’ve talked to the Premier. I’ve talked to the health minister. They won’t tell us where they went. And the end result? People died in my riding. Don’t tell me what you guys have been doing, please.
Over the last several months, the commissioners have met with residents, their families, caregivers, staff, home operators, advocates, professional organizations, labour leadership, government officials, experts and many more. Our government is grateful to the commission for their interim recommendations, and we look forward to receiving their final recommendations in late April so we can act on them.
The two sets of interim recommendations that the commission provided on October 23 and December 4, 2020, have been helpful tools for us in our continuing modernization of Ontario’s long-term-care system.
Our government took action on those recommendations for the same reason we have established this commission: The long-term-care system must be modernized, and we cannot lose time to act. We acted quickly on the interim recommendations, as my colleagues the members for Durham and Perth–Wellington observed. We have taken those recommendations to heart and have bolstered IPAC, are working towards improving leadership and accountability in homes and the inspection system. Our government is hiring and onboarding more inspectors and looking at how to ensure proactive inspections complement complaint and critical incident complaints.
We are transitioning to rapid antigen testing for caregivers, staff, students, support workers and general visitors. This simplifies access for people to get into homes; 1.25 million tests have gone to homes.
We have clarified visitor restrictions to establish the category of essential visitors, who can enter homes even in outbreak.
The specialized care centre provides care for residents who need to be temporarily located.
The recommendations on staffing are important too. During the pandemic, we have invested more than half a billion dollars to prevent and contain COVID-19 and to recruit, educate and retain health care workers.
And we are taking action to address the long-standing staffing problems that have built up over decades of neglect. In December, we launched our staffing plan, A Better Place to Live, a Better Place to Work. Our plan sets out actions to hire more staff, improve working conditions for existing staff, drive stronger leadership, and retain current staff. We committed to leading Canada and to achieving a standard of care of an average of four hours per resident per day. Our plan is ambitious, and it’s achievable. It will require the educating and training of new staff to fill the more than 27,000 full-time-equivalent jobs which will be needed to reach this standard. We back up that solid plan with up to $1.9 billion in annual funding by 2024-25, and that is on top of tens of millions of dollars in existing training and staff funding.
In short, we have taken the commission’s recommendations very seriously.
Our government has co-operated fully with the commission and continues to. Besides Dr. Williams, the Minister of Long-Term Care and the Minister of Health and their deputy ministers’ meetings with the commission, a large number of government officials have appeared. The list is comprehensive and exhaustive. To pick just a few: The Deputy Minister of Health; the Deputy Minister of Long-Term Care; the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s assistant deputy ministers for policy and for development; the associate deputy minister for long-term-care pandemic response; the Ministry of Health’s associate deputy minister for pandemic response and recovery; and many other government officials are in the over 100 meetings the commission has posted.
I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the sheer volume of work the commissioners have done so far. That list of meetings takes up eight pages. The transcripts and presentations from everyone involved in the pandemic response that they have released total over 6,000 pages. That is in keeping with our government’s commitment to be transparent with Ontarians. I want members of the public and opposition to know that, in addition to those releases from the commission, inspection reports are public, pandemic data sets are accessible online and updates from the Health Coordination Table and provincial command table are also posted.
We are producing documents for the commission. The scope they are covering is rightfully quite broad. Some of these documents date to the previous government. To coordinate the historic scale of documents requested by the commission, our government retained a third-party vendor to assist in the production of those documents. That vendor is following an established protocol for document production. As requests for documents come in, they are processed and produced. To date, more than 60,000 unique documents have been shared with the commission.
We have seen the opposition’s self-evident contradictory view of the commission. As my colleague pointed out, the Leader of the Opposition, in just one day in this House, said that something was “wrong with a commission,” that it would be used to “back up whatever the government decides they want to have public,” that it was “government-controlled,” referencing a “backroom kind of deal cooked up with some commissioner or some commission”—all on the same day. On another occasion, she implied it was, to use her words, “a cover-up.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and we have all seen that. The commissioners have been transparent with Ontarians, opening channels of communication for residents, families, staff, operators and the public, releasing their transcripts in close to real time and informing Ontarians who they have met with.
As a member of a government committed to transparency, I commend the commissioners for being fully transparent—and I do not think the Leader of the Opposition can say the same.
Madam Speaker, at the heart of this matter, the issue is simple, and I’ll repeat it for members of the opposition who don’t seem to have heard it for almost a year: Our government is committed to modernizing long-term care. We are committed to getting Ontarians the answers they deserve. We are committed to doing it quickly. It is that simple. Before and during the pandemic, we have been building the foundations of a modernized long-term-care sector. We are going to keep doing that.
The commissioners’ expertise and insight have already complemented these efforts, and I am confident that their final recommendations will help us move further towards our shared goal: a better long-term-care system that meets the needs of our society’s most vulnerable members. That is what this is all about, and we simply cannot lose sight of this.
Madam Speaker, the opposition are treating this pandemic as politics as usual. It isn’t.
We’ve already lost 15 years, time that we could have spent improving long-term care, a sector that was neglected by the previous government. We cannot lose more time to do this. Long-term-care residents, their families and the staff who care for them cannot be kept waiting even longer than they already have. Our government has made meaningful progress, and we need to keep that momentum going. We are all looking forward to the commission’s final report and recommendations to help us continue to repair and rebuild the long-term-care system.
The battle of COVID-19 is still not over. Not all long-term-care residents, staff and caregivers have received their full inoculations. Requested documents are still remaining outstanding from the commission. There is still investigating to be done and stakeholders to talk to. Families across this province are still dealing with the tragic consequences of COVID-19.
It’s clear that this government is refusing to extend the commission because, in a few short months, it has already revealed the missteps of the government when it was handling the pandemic. At the time the commission was announced, Minister Fullerton said, “This is something that we believe as a government is a priority, it has to be, and we need to address the questions that Ontarians have.” Well, Speaker, Ontarians still have many unanswered questions, so why is the commission not being allowed to run its course?
At the time, the Premier’s office said, “We know the system is broken. We can’t afford to wait for another inquiry to tell us what we already know.” Then we have the commission’s recommendations that have not been implemented. There is still no legislated minimum standard of care—that, we know. There is still no legislated caregiver access—that, we know. So fix it. We’ve called on these items to be addressed in the Legislature.
At this point, I don’t know what’s worse, Speaker: that this government refuses to acknowledge the fact that many of the 4,000 resident deaths could have been prevented, that action could have been taken earlier; or that they refuse to learn from their mistakes that could have protected our loved ones who live and work in long-term care.
So the government offers families a government commission, to be transparent, to seek answers, to fix long-term care, but what they’re getting is half the work when we don’t allow the commission to extend the timeline. Families and loved ones and workers in long-term care are wondering what those full answers are, and they deserve to have them. They deserve to have the inquiry, the commission, do a full scope of long-term care. We’ve waited far too long, and this is the opportunity that’s before us.
I urge all the MPPs in this House—they need to support this motion and give the commission the extension it needs to do the work that this government tasked them with: to find those answers in long-term care that families and loved ones and workers and all of us have been waiting for for decades.
If I look at the people in my own riding, Evelyn Dutrisac, Joanne MacNeil, Diane Lafreniere-Kingsley, Lison Breton: Those are all people who have reached out because they want changes in our long-term care. Nicole has reached out. She wants changes in our long-term care. It cannot continue the way it is.
All you have to do is vote in favour of this motion. Let them finish the work that they have started. Take the recommendations that they have given you and act upon it now. Bring four hours of hands-on care right now. It could make a huge difference. Make PSW jobs a career. Give them a decent pay. Give them benefits, full-time work, maybe even a pension plan and a workload that a human being can handle, and you will change the care for every single one of those residents. Do this now. How do you do this? You vote yes to this motion.
This government talks of our front-line health care heroes but doesn’t treat them like heroes. Many are still waiting for long-time-delayed pandemic pay—wages, by the way, that they have always deserved. But when shareholders need a dividend, the money needs to come from somewhere. Wages, food quality for residents and quality of care suffers when long-term-care dollars are needed to make a profit. It is a staggering but true statistic that during COVID, for-profit long-term-care facilities suffered 78% more COVID-19 deaths than the public non-profit model of care.
The official opposition calls for a public inquiry into long-term care to have an open and transparent process to identify serious flaws that have existed in long-term care throughout the Liberal and the Conservative governments. Unfortunately, this government rejected that.
Listen, this proposal doesn’t come out of left field, so to speak. This has been requested by none other than the commissioners themselves. But the government has refused their request repeatedly. They want to shut down the commission’s work at a time when residents and families and front-line workers who have risked their lives are saying very clearly, “We need answers. Hear us.” Those answers require that light be shone in the dark corners of this government’s policy, of their response, of their failures. But instead of letting the light in, they’re throwing up walls. Instead of looking to see how they can improve upon things in this pandemic, they are shutting down this commission.
What’s happening in this pandemic, particularly to those who are vulnerable, those living and working in long-term care—it is a tragedy; it is a travesty. And this is what is going to be written in the history books. The government members need to ask themselves: Will this be your legacy—a legacy that, rather than protecting families and residents and workers, threw up an iron ring not around the homes but around the for-profit corporations that run those homes, around the shareholders, around the former Premiers who sit on their boards, around the wealthy donors who all profited from the weakened standards and the weakened regulations.
Madam Speaker, the way forward has to be based on truth, on full transparency and on full accountability. I ask the members opposite, please join us in supporting this motion.
Why it’s important is because the families in Thunder Bay–Atikokan—those who suffered and had their family dying in Roseview manor in Thunder Bay—have a question. They want to know why this was allowed. That is something that they have continually said. How could this have happened? We knew what the first wave brought. Why did they not act and secure security for their loved ones in the second wave?
I think there are lessons to be learned in this time. The lessons are not just about the levels of care, which are so important—and we have the power to get those in place immediately, but we don’t; we sit back and talk about some time down the road, in five years. What we need to look at is the systems. Why wasn’t infection control in place? Why wasn’t proper PPE in place? Why was there no plan in place when we were in a second wave?
I encourage you to allow this commission to get those answers.
We all have an obligation to fix long-term care. No one should be nodding their heads that expedient answers are better than good ones. This is what is at risk today, when there is talk about shutting down a commission that—in their own words, “Most documents and summonses remain outstanding.” What is at risk? Darn good answers.
I am clear-eyed to know that even after the commission makes recommendations, there is no obligation to heed them. Some recommendations from the SARS commission went unheeded.
We called nurses heroes, and then we forced them to go to the courts to fight for PPE for their for-profit workplaces—ignoring the previous recommendations on the precautionary principle.
Even worse, the most important recommendations from the SARS commission were about proactive inspections, but this government ignored that advice. We are repeating history when the government cut inspections before the pandemic. This is not clear. Just last month, we only had 11 proactive inspections during a pandemic—not enough, government. The lesson here is that 10 years from now, another government might not heed the lessons from this commission. So it is so important that we let the commission do its job now.
The solution is simple: Give the commission the time it needs to get it right and the opportunity to be thorough, to drive for justice, to pursue dignity for our seniors and our older adults in nursing homes.
The reality is that we need to fix long-term-care homes. Report after report highlights that for-profit homes have nearly 80% more deaths than their not-for-profit counterparts. This is worth an investigation. This is worth immediate changes.
We owe real answers to the families who have lost loved ones, to the nurses and the front-line workers. Most of all, we owe the community and all of Ontario exactly that—real answers.
Last spring, as you know, New Democrats called for a public inquiry into the catastrophe that we were seeing unfold in long-term care. Instead, the Premier created a watered-down version of an inquiry, and now, he’s trying to shut even that down early. The commission has asked for extra time and this government is refusing.
Everyone can see that the government is trying to avoid accountability for its failure to keep seniors and other residents of long-term-care homes safe. They’re trying to avoid making any real changes to long-term care, despite the overwhelming need for higher-quality care, more staff, and the need to take profit out of long-term-care homes. New Democrats have put forward several measures to help this government along, and they refuse to listen.
In Hamilton, we’ve seen this government’s failure to ensure quality in long-term-care homes. Not one Hamilton long-term-care home has had a resident quality inspection since 2018. Several homes haven’t had inspections since 2017. This government likes to blame the previous Liberal government for their astonishing failure to inspect homes—rightfully so—but they point to these backlogged complaints as the reason for why they cancelled the quality inspections. That makes absolutely no sense. Seeing a high number of complaints should indicate that there is something wrong. It should be a cause for more quality inspections, not fewer.
In my riding of Hamilton Mountain, Grace Villa had its last quality inspection in November 2018. In 2020, the home had a massive outbreak which led to 234 infections and 44 deaths—all preventable. I wrote to the long-term-care minister to ask for provincial interventions. I was begging, quite honestly. It was clear from the workers and the families that I had been speaking with that the home was in crisis and the outbreak was completely out of control. The workers described it as a war zone, and they shared with me daily what issues were happening. They were understaffed. They had poor sanitation. People just weren’t showing up to work because they were terrified. They didn’t have proper bedding. They were cutting blankets to make cloths to give some kind of washing. People were lying in urine. People were vomiting and choking. It was an absolute, horrific mess.
I received the minister’s response to my letter the following week. She basically said to me that the situation in the home was under control. That very same day, I also received another response. It was announced that Hamilton Health Sciences was taking over the home—the same day I received the letter saying that everything was under control.
It’s unbelievable that in the middle of an outbreak, the province was unable to see the severity of this crisis. The province has lost real oversight of long-term care and has allowed private companies, which are now shielded from lawsuits—which is another shameful episode—to operate without restriction and to make profit on the backs of these same residents.
This is why we need the commission to finish its work and why we need the minister and the Premier to appear before that commission. The failure to secure long-term-care homes from COVID-19 and allowing seniors and people with disabilities to bear the brunt of this pandemic is an absolute disgrace. It is shameful that this government is silencing this commission before it can finish its work. The commission has asked for the time. The commission deserves the time, the people of Ontario deserve the time and the seniors of today, the seniors of tomorrow deserve us putting a clear effort into truly fixing long-term care.
It was bad enough watching COVID-19 tear through long-term care back in the spring and early summer of last year. But to watch as month after month went by and the government did literally nothing—nothing to prepare, nothing to change the approach to long-term care as the second wave was knocking on our door—is not only unforgettable, Speaker, it’s unforgivable.
Maybe this is why the Premier doesn’t want to allow the commission to have the time that it needs to complete its work: because he doesn’t want to know what the answers are; he doesn’t want to know where the government failed. But Ontarians deserve to know that, Speaker. They deserve to know.
I think it’s really interesting to have listened to what some of the government-side members are saying. This is a government that promised an iron ring around long-term care that never showed up. This is a government that sat back on its heels while other provinces in the summertime were recruiting literally thousands upon thousands of PSWs. Today, I think the government made an announcement that they’re going to perhaps have 300-odd new PSWs get trained. This is in February of 2021. It should have been done in April of 2020, and it shouldn’t have been a couple of hundred PSWs. When Quebec can engage 10,000 and BC 7,000, what does Ontario do as seniors are losing their lives in long-term care? Nothing.
So here we are in the second wave, and not one of the lessons that should have been learned in the first wave was learned. This government never, ever got ahead of the COVID-19 virus, and the people that suffered the most and paid the worst price were the most vulnerable seniors in our communities. The tragedies, as I mentioned, are absolutely unspeakable. But what did the government do when the commission was established? They basically dragged their feet again. The commission literally had to beg the government to provide the documents necessary for them to complete their work. The government played a game and held onto those documents until the clock started ticking. So really, it’s the government and the government members who are doing a huge disservice to the people of Ontario.
Had we preferred a full public judicial inquiry? Absolutely. It’s interesting to hear the government members talk as if the commission is doing everything it should be doing and not being interfered with by the government. In fact, the government is interfering with the work of the commission. Yes, it is a government commission. In other words, if it wasn’t a government commission, we wouldn’t have to be here debating this motion, because the Premier would not have the ability to simply say no when it comes to showing up to testify, when it comes to the provision of documents and when it comes to the expansion of the mandate, at the very least to give them the time they need to do their work.
But do you know what? This government started off here in Ontario by cutting public health units, by cutting the resident quality proactive inspections, by cutting the budget of long-term care. So it should be no surprise that the findings of the commission were things like we need to increase PSWs, we need to make sure that there is more investment to help with the staffing mix, we need to make sure that there are four hours of hands-on care—not in 2024 or 2025, which is what the government’s plan is, but right now. They could have done it in the summer; they should have. The very least they should do is provide the answers that Ontarians deserve.
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the nays have it.
A recorded vote being required, the bells will ring for 30 minutes, during which time members may cast their votes. Prepare the lobbies, please.
The division bells rang from 1549 to 1619.
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