Ontario Letting COVID off the Leash says reader

To the Editor:

It looks like Doug Ford isn’t coping with COVID as well as we thought he was when the first wave of the virus tore through the Province. Now his concern for Ontario’s economy seems to be trumping (pun intended) his concern for people. Witness, for example, the weak thresholds for his new colour-coded closures – thresholds that were never endorsed by public health. And while other provinces used the lull over the summer to ramp up health care staffing, Ontario did not.

Compared to the rest of the world, Canada (and therefore Ontario since we seem to be the nation’s super spreader) is not doing as well as China, or Vietnam, or Australia or New Zealand or any number of African countries. Comparing ourselves to the terror to the south of us is not an accurate measure of our COVID containment.

Cases are spiking again in long-term care homes – especially those run by private corporations. In the spring, Canada had by far the highest death rate in nursing homes – 81% to 66% in Spain and 31% in the US. For-profit homes own about 60% of LTC beds in Ontario but accounted for over 70% of COVID-related deaths.

Mr Ford could have opened the can of worms that is Ontario’s LTC system to public scrutiny with an official inquiry. Instead he opted for a limited look with an investigation that asked polite questions behind closed doors.

He could have allowed folks who have lost loved ones in the pandemic to sue LTC homes in open court. That would prompt some serious changes.

Instead he has, under the cover of COVID legislation, restricted the grounds on which people can take these homes to court. Under the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act plaintiffs will now have to prove gross negligence – that a home did not act or even try to act in accord with public health guidelines.

That’s an almost impossible bar to reach in court. It requires proof not only of malfeasance but of maliciousness. But there’s more. The Act also wipes out all the COVID-related suits that have already been filed.

The rationale advanced by the government is that this was done to protect workers in the homes from litigation. This is nonsense. No one sues the workers in cases like this. For one thing, they have no money, their wages being so low. For another, it’s the owners of LTC homes that own responsibility – it’s their low staffing levels, their poor infection control practices, their skimping on supplies.

No, the new law is clearly meant to protect nursing home owners, shareholders and boards of directors … like Mike Harris, who is the Chairman of the Board of Chartwell. Chartwell is a real estate firm that owns some 200 retirement and LTC homes across Canada (23 in Ontario) and had revenues last year of just under $800 million. 85 people died in its homes from COVID in the spring.

When he was Premier, Mr Harris axed many of the regulations that were designed to keep residents safe. Mr Ford went further. In the fall of 2018 he eliminated most Resident Quality Inspections (RQIs) – down to 14 in 2019 from an average of 650 over the previous three years.

RQIs were the most effective check on resident health and quality of care. They were done in addition to other inspections and were a comprehensive assessment of (for example) infection control and patient care.

Even scarier, a CBC investigation found that LTC homes averaged 7000 regulatory violations a year and 85% of homes were repeat offenders.

Private sector ideology is trumping (again, pun intended) public safety and people are paying the price.

David McLaren