By Zaid Noorsumar
The Ontario Health Coalition is holding an online Day of Action today, May 1, to demand the Ontario PC government and Premier Doug Ford fix long-term care. The hashtag #FixLTCFord is being used by the Coalition and its supporters on Twitter and other social media platforms.
In addition to demanding the elimination of for-profit nursing homes, the OHC is demanding immediate improvements to PPE access, permanent improvement in wages and working conditions, implementation of a 4-hour minimum care standard, and improved infection control.
Premier’s words don’t match actions
Conditions in nursing homes have been deadly. Over 160 facilities in Ontario are reporting outbreaks and hundreds of deaths.
“While measures that have been announced by the provincial government are welcome and sincerely appreciated, still there remains a dangerous disconnect between what the Premier has said he is going to do and the actual policy measures undertaken by his government,” says Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.
While acknowledging some improved access to COVID-19 testing, Mehra reports testing is still lacking in for staff and residents at homes with outbreaks.
The $4/hour wage enhancement for staff is an improvement, but already low staffing levels have only worsened. And when the Ontario government mandated staff only work in a single home to contain the spread of COVID-19, workers were not guaranteed full-time hours.
There has been improved access to PPE, but the Ontario Health Coalition says some homes are still not compliant with provincial guidelines and should be penalized accordingly.
“The provincial government has not used its legislated powers to revoke licenses of the homes with the most egregious practices and to appoint management to take over the homes,” Mehra said.
Mehra says the government lacks initiative in finding permanent solutions, and calls on the Ford government to implement a minimum staffing standard of four hours of direct care.
“There is total consensus that residents, families and staff alike need a regulated, enforced minimum care standard of an average of 4-hours of care per day in order to protect residents and staff from inadequate care, high rates of violence and injury,” Mehra said. That consensus does not include the for-profit lobby, the Ontario Long-Term Care Association.
Healthcare unions endorse Day of Action
Several major health care unions are endorsing the Day of Action and the Ontario Health Coalition’s demands, including the elimination of for-profit ownership of nursing homes.
Unifor, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 3000 pledged their support for the action.
“As the crisis in long term care takes hold with terrible results, it is an opportunity to face the future with a commitment to push for-profit operators out of this sector and to increase staffing levels,” said Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.
Vicky McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, said that her union has been advocating for safer working conditions and higher quality of care for decades.
“ONA has seen crisis after crisis in this sector and the fix never seems to come,” she said, noting that intra-resident and resident-to-staff violence, understaffing and underfunding have remained unresolved issues.
Response from opposition parties
Teresa Armstrong, the long-term care critic of the Ontario NDP, said the official opposition backs the demands put forward by the Ontario Health Coalition.
“For years, the NDP has been ringing the alarm about Ontario’s chronically underfunded and understaffed long-term care sector,” said Armstrong, whose party has tabled a minimum care standard legislation multiple times.
“Since the pandemic hit, it’s clearer than ever that we can never go back to the broken, underfunded patchwork system that failed to protect people.”
Rankandfile.ca also reached out to the Ontario Liberal Party, which did not explicitly state its support for the Day of Action.
In a statement via email, the Liberal Party responded, “The Ontario Liberal Party has been pushing the government to ensure proper access to PPE for all PSWs and healthcare workers. We called for a wage top up weeks ago and have asked for it to be retroactive to the first date of the pandemic.”
As has previously been noted by Rankandfile.ca, the last Liberal government (2003-2018) failed to establish a minimum care standard, and didn’t address fundamental problems in the sector including corporatization of nursing homes.