Military blows the whistle on horrifying conditions at five LTC homes

By Sabrina Nanji May 27, 2020

Staff moved freely between infected and non-infected residents. PPE and medical supplies were kept under lock and key because they cost money. Residents languished in bed in soiled diapers rather than being assisted to the toilet, while others went unbathed for weeks or had to cry out for hours before getting help. Elderly patients lived among flies and cockroaches. Some received medication that expired months ago. 
Those are just some of the egregious allegations of neglect and abuse at five long-term care homes where the Armed Forces were deployed to help cope with the coronavirus crisis last month as part of “Operation Laser.”
Soldiers were roused to report their observations — released by the province Tuesday — after about two weeks on the ground at Pickering’s Orchard Villa, Scarborough’s Altamont Care Community, Etobicoke’s Eatonville, North York’s Hawthorne Place and Brampton’s Holland Christian Homes’ Grace Manor. Four of the five homes are for-profits. 
A seemingly stunned Premier Doug Ford said the Ministry of Long-Term Care will investigate the allegations at each of the homes and share findings with police, which could lead to criminal charges. Ministry inspectors will conduct interviews with staff and residents and review operational and medical records as part of the probe. 
One death at one of the worst-hit homes, Orchard Villa, has been referred to the coroner’s office for investigation, officials confirmed at a tech briefing. 
Ford again said he inherited a “broken” system, but it took soldiers being on the ground “24/7 every single day” to uncover the extent of the “cracks in the ship.” 
After reading the report, Ford now says he’s open to the possibility of a full-on public inquiry as opposed to his earlier preference for an “independent commission” into elderly care in September. 
“The buck stops with me,” the premier said, promising to “fix this system no matter what it takes … Everything is on the table.” 
Ford was reluctant to paint all 626 LTC homes with the same brush as the five where soldiers were deployed, but he does believe the problems stretch beyond that. 
Critics say PCs can’t chalk up disaster to systemic issues 
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton should resign. 
“It’s inhumane, and it’s abuse,” Horwath said of the conditions unearthed by the Armed Forces. It shouldn’t have taken soldiers “to lift the veil,” and the premier and minister ought to have known what was going on, she said. 
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said it’s “shameful” that “political calculations” are still getting in the way of a commitment to a public inquiry. Schreiner acknowledged decades-long problems in seniors care but said Ford as premier must take responsibility for deplorable conditions. 
“Passing the buck to the last government doesn’t cut it when you’ve been in power for two years and spent that time preoccupied with licence plates and gas station stickers,” he charged. 
A member of the previous government, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, said “This is a difficult moment, but we cannot turn away.” Del Duca echoed the call for a public inquiry, saying he’s “glad” the premier intends to take the report “seriously” and overhaul the system as a whole. 
SEIU Healthcare, which represents PSWs, said the province should not be able to skirt blame for the state of long-term care, pointing out the PCs eliminated regulations requiring staff background checks in March. 
The CAF report noted poor staff training and orientation, which the PCs also scrapped requirements for at the outset of the pandemic, leading to “low adherence” to protocols and basic care needs. Also set aside were the mandatory filing of incident reports and other documentation, another sore point in the Armed Forces’ observations. 
The PCs continue to take heat on inspections, which were majorly scaled back last year, and are now taking place by telephone, in some cases. 
Ontario Long-Term Care Association CEO Donna Duncan thanked the Armed Forces for their help and maintained the pandemic “exacerbated systemic issues, like the longstanding staffing challenges.” The association called on the PCs for more PPE, testing and investment in aging homes. 
Ford has asked Ottawa for a 30-day extension on the military’s presence in long-term care. Thus far at least 15 soldiers have been infected with COVID-19. 
Speaking to reporters ahead of the report’s release, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it “deeply disturbing.” Ford has requested help from Ottawa as the PCs move toward revamping the system, saying the province simply doesn’t have the cash to solve the problem solo.