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Ontario Hansard - 29-March2021

Mr. Stephen Crawford: It’s always an honour to rise in this House and contribute to the topic of debate. I cannot stress how important the topic of debate is today, that’s for sure.

The tragedy that has occurred during this pandemic is undeniable and the desire to memorialize it is only natural. Ontario and the world were ravaged by the pandemic, and we will never forget the events of the past 14 months, nor should we. Though much progress has been made to keep case counts low and protect each other from the potential spread, the pandemic is still ongoing. But I would also suggest that the best means to have a discussion is not a debate called on five days’ notice.

Faced with an unprecedented global pandemic, our government has worked hard day and night to keep Ontarians safe, and especially the most vulnerable in long-term care.

I would like the members of this House to think back to January of last year. We were still over a month out before COVID-19 and the first cases in any long-term-care home in Ontario. Speaker, 63% of Ontario’s residents resided in shared rooms at that time in long-term-care homes; in British Columbia, 24% did. That’s a stark difference.

I could fill my time today and beyond with statistics about what the previous government, propped up by the NDP, did to leave those folks in a vulnerable position. The previous Liberal government left long-term-care residents in our province in a dire position.

We are the first government to create a ministry solely dedicated to this critical file. This, of course, was before COVID-19 became an issue.

The long-term-care wait-list during the previous Liberal government had over 30,000 people. Instead of actually addressing the shortage of beds, they built 611 from 2011 to 2018—seven years with 600 beds in this entire province. How can that be a record anyone can be proud of? So we can’t forget that Liberal record.

Speaker, I certainly want to mention, locally, my riding of Oakville, where our government is utilizing a ministerial zoning order to build a 512-bed long-term-care home. That’s 99 beds less than the previous government did across the entire province over seven years, just in my town alone.

Residents of Oakville and across the province need access to critical care. My office, and other offices, I’m sure, from both sides, are getting calls from residents about why it takes so long for a family member to get the care they need. I’m proud that the government recognizes the needs of the residents of Oakville and throughout the province by building long-term-care homes, so I will continue, certainly, to fight for the needs of my residents in Oakville and their needs for long-term care every day I’m in this chamber.

On January 31, 2020, our government issued guidance documents to long-term-care homes on how to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19. The guidance was based on the expertise of our province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and reflected the best available information at the time. It’s easy now, with the benefit of hindsight, for the opposition to make a show of pretending they knew better and criticizing the actions of our government. But they would do well to remember this: In the next sitting week of the Legislature, two weeks after our government took our first of many actions against COVID-19, neither the Leader of the Opposition nor a single member of her caucus asked a single question about COVID-19. They didn’t even ask a single question about long-term-care homes. Maybe they hadn’t been paying attention; I’m not sure. Maybe they just don’t like the facts.

Speaker, I want to make it clear: This is an important topic that cannot be dismissed. The pandemic has unfortunately and sadly taken many loved ones, but the fact that our government has worked nonstop from the very beginning of this pandemic, for over a year, to protect long-term-care residents, is critical to remember.

I might add that I know the independent member, as well, mentioned that we’ve always been behind when it comes to long-term care. But let’s stress the fact again: We were the first government to commit a full, dedicated ministry to long-term care, and we’re the first government to actually do anything about long-term-care beds in this province, and, I might add, the first government to make sure air conditioning is mandated in new builds, so let’s remember that.

Since that first action on January 31, we’ve been relentless in our efforts. On February 11, still a month before the first presumptive case of COVID-19 hit our long-term-care homes, we issued updated guidance for long-term-care homes on prevention and screening. By March 11, we had required long-term-care homes to begin more aggressive screening, in line with the medical expert advice, to catch any potential cases among visitors, residents, staff and volunteers. On that day, we also began to test every respiratory test conducted in long-term care, regardless of whether COVID-19 was suspected.

On March 13, still before any presumptive cases in our province, we made the very hard decision to restrict all but essential visitors from entering long-term-care homes. We know the hardship this has posed for many families. Keeping COVID-19 out of our long-term-care homes unfortunately means keeping visitors out as well.

On March 20, recognizing an urgent need for flexibility in long-term-care staff deployment, we amended regulations. This made it easier for homes to quickly bring in more and new staff to prevent potential staffing shortages and to allow staff to spend more time on direct care for residents.

By March 22, the Chief Medical Officer of Health had issued a directive to the sector to limit the number of staff workplaces, wherever possible.

The next day, we issued the first of four emergency orders to support staffing flexibility and eliminate short-stay beds in long-term care, and the day after that, we amended regulations to make it easier for families to take their loved ones home during the pandemic if that’s where they wanted to be.

On March 25, our government launched our action plan to respond to COVID-19, a $17-billion emergency relief package that came with $243 million for long-term-care staffing, supplies and emergency capacity.

On March 27, we issued a second emergency order, giving homes more flexibility to redirect staffing and financial resources to essential tasks during the COVID-19 crisis.

On April 8, in line with new evidence on COVID-19 prevention, the Chief Medical Officer of Health directed all long-term-care staff and essential visitors to wear surgical masks at all times. Despite global competition for supplies, since that time, our government has been making same-day deliveries, responding to every escalated request for personal protective equipment within 24 hours.

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On April 15, we issued an action plan specifically for the long-term-care sector that ramped up protection through more aggressive testing and outbreak management, and launched new resources for growing our heroic long-term-care workforce. We launched mobile deployment teams and long-term-care/hospital partnerships that have supported well over 100 homes to date. Two days later, to prevent further asymptomatic spread, we made the decision to restrict staff to one workplace only and provided funding for homes to give part-time workers full-time hours, wherever possible.

On April 22, our government announced a request for assistance from the Canadian Armed Forces. We remain incredibly grateful for the over 250 brave men and women in uniform deployed throughout our province in six homes at a time of critical need. Their support ranged across the country, with over 1,000 personnel supporting 47 homes in Quebec and supporting homes in First Nations communities, as well as in Manitoba. As a nation and as a province, we are incredibly grateful to our service members assisting when we needed them at that critical time.

To further support staffing needs, on April 25, we amended an emergency order to allow health service providers, including hospitals, to temporarily reassign front-line staff to provide services and supports in long-term-care homes. On that day we introduced a $4-an-hour pandemic premium on top of the regular hourly wages for 100,000 long-term-care staff, plus a $250-a-month top-up for those working 100 hours or more in long-term-care homes. That program alone brought over 8,600 new workers into Ontario’s long-term-care homes.

In May of last year, our government announced an emergency order that allowed the Ministry of Long-Term Care to place a temporary manager at homes that were struggling with an outbreak and needed more robust management. Management contracts are just one more tool to ensure we can do everything possible to get homes through this challenging time.

It was this government that saw the collapse of staffing in some homes during outbreak and requested the Canadian Armed Forces to go into and support these homes. It was this government, our Premier, who received the Canadian Armed Forces report and released it, because we knew that Ontarians needed to know how dangerous staffing collapses are for residents. And it was our government that worked with homes and the Canadian Armed Forces to restore normal operations—with all problems raised by the report resolved or nearly resolved when the Canadian Armed Forces deployment ended.

The claim by the opposition that our government had not adequately prepared for a second wave is categorically false. The government held dozens of lessons-learned exercises with over 300 experts. The Ministry of Long-Term Care engaged stakeholders and the sector. Every home in this province did a preparedness assessment over the summer, which informed decision-making at the IMS table. We spent the months over summer preparing for a robust fall preparedness plan that has shored up our response to the second wave of COVID-19.

Over the summer, our government increased level-of-care funding by 1.5%, deferred long-term-care accommodation rate changes and released the findings of the government’s staffing study. We launched the commission into COVID-19 in long-term-care homes—the first jurisdiction, I might add, in North America to do so. Our government established the recovery and planning table and developed a plan to ensure the health system was prepared and ready to respond to the challenges of the fall.

Voluntary management contracts and mandatory management orders were executed to stabilize homes that were unable to get their outbreaks under control starting in May and throughout the subsequent months of 2020. Every home in the province was mapped to a local hospital to provide support and IPAC hubs were developed.

We worked with the federal government as well to develop a support network from the Canadian Red Cross, and we developed mobile emergency support teams, a rapid-response team that could be deployed to homes in outbreak. That support worked: 29 homes had voluntary management contracts executed and six mandatory management orders were executed. These enabled responsive management structures from the other health care organizations in 35 hard-hit homes. Twenty homes received support from the Canadian Red Cross, and 59 homes received support from mobile emergency support teams.

Throughout the second wave, Ontario had one of the most sensitive thresholds to trigger an outbreak response in the country. British Columbia, for example, considers it an outbreak when a staff member has worked in a long-term-care home while symptomatic. In Saskatchewan, it’s two or more positive cases; same in Quebec. In Ontario, if a staff member has no symptoms and they receive a positive test result, they isolate at home and an outbreak is declared.

Each home is partnered with IPAC expertise that is deployed to homes in an outbreak. IPAC compliance is regularly audited by public health and long-term-care inspectors. An escalation structure allowed swifter, enhanced responses to homes with more serious outbreaks. This worked hand in glove with the surveillance testing. The surveillance testing of staff and residents allowed us to identify outbreaks quickly, and our government developed the testing capacity to do these tests essentially from scratch. These measures were developed based on the experience of the first wave and to provide an enhanced response structure. I haven’t even included the countless memos sent to the sector with guidance and direction, the use of our health matching portal, or the day-to-day, around-the-clock work the Ministry of Long-Term Care has had with homes to support them in this very struggling fight.

It’s also important to note that the second wave was longer than the first wave. In the first wave, most cases occurred in March and April and began trailing off in May. In the second wave, case counts began increasing in September and finally trailed off in January and February. That’s a comparison of two to three months compared to four to five months. This mirrored the experience, by the way, in the rest of the world. This was systemic throughout the world. It was no different.

In the second wave, almost every home saw lower infection rates and lower mortality rates. At least one of the homes which saw a high infection rate and a high mortality rate had a more virulent strain of the virus, one of the variants of concern we remain focused on fighting today.

All of the measures that have been put together here have saved lives, and our government has backed those up with real funding. Without factoring in the budget tabled just last week, our government has invested $1.38 billion into COVID-19 response to protect the residents, caregivers, staff and volunteers in long-term-care homes. These investments include:

—$786 million to help homes with operating pressures, including IPAC, staffing and PPE;

—$61.4 million for repairs and renovations in homes to improve IPAC, which may include updating HVAC systems or replacing furniture and equipment;

—$40 million to support homes that have stopped admissions of third or fourth residents in larger rooms;

—$30 million to allow long-term-care homes to hire more IPAC staff, including $20 million for 150 new personnel and $10 million for training;

—$26.3 million to support PSWs and supportive care workers.

We continue to flow funding to homes to meet their needs. On top of that, our government is investing $461 million to increase PSW wages. That’s a $3 raise for 50,000 PSWs, which will help homes recruit and retain PSWs. We continued that increase to June 30 of this year, with an additional investment of $239 million.

Once passed, the 2021 budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy, will bring more unprecedented investments to long-term care. These include $4.9 billion over the next four years to reach a standard of an average of four hours of care per resident per day—that commitment that will make Ontario the leader in Canada as we create 27,000 new PSW positions and nurse positions—and $246 million to improve living conditions in long-term-care homes for items like air conditioning, which is absolutely critical. To protect our loved ones in long-term care, we are also investing $650 million in 2021-22, bringing the total resources invested since the start of the pandemic to over $2 billion.

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Speaker, the Liberal government, propped up by the NDP, had no problems with the conditions of long-term care before our government was elected. It was never brought up. They never had a ministry dedicated to it. They had 15 years—15 years—to improve the conditions and nothing—nothing—was done. Our government saw many areas that needed to be improved, including standards of care for each resident, staffing and, of course, that horrendously long wait-list.

Across the world, and here in Ontario, long-term-care homes became the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Our government has used every option at our disposal to prevent and contain the spread of this virus and to protect our most vulnerable, and we will continue to do that.

With that, Madam Speaker, I conclude my time, and I thank you for allowing me the time to speak today.


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