ZOOMER Magazine

Justice and Accountabi­lity

As the pandemic’s second wave devastates Ontario nursing homes, C.A.R.P. calls on Premier Doug Ford to fire his long-term care minister

- NMID-MAY By Peter Muggeridge

for Ontario’s long-term care crisis

Ilast year, when the Canadian Armed Forces issued a shocking report of the appalling conditions they found when they were called in to assist Ontario nursing homes overwhelme­d by outbreaks and death, Premier Doug Ford vowed he would seek “justice and accountabi­lity” for residents and their families.

At the time, Ford rejected calls to fire his long-term care minister, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, despite heavy criticism from families of residents, opposition leaders, nurses unions and the media that she wasn’t doing enough to stop the deaths in nursing homes.

With the second wave of COVID-19 cutting a similar path of destructio­n through Ontario nursing homes, Canada’s largest seniors advocacy group feels that Ford can no longer defend his embattled minister.

To force the premier’s hand, C.A.R.P. started a campaign to fire Fullerton, whom the group feels failed to act quickly and decisively to avert the second wave from spreading in nursing homes. The campaign – called “Enough Is Enough – Fire the Minister” – began with a media push in December along with a digital petition (available at carp.ca) that has garnered more than 5,000 signatures as well as the support of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Howarth.

“We’re not blaming the minister for allowing COVID-19 into nursing homes,” says David Cravit, a member of C.A.R.P.’s board of directors who is spearheadi­ng the campaign. “We are saying that neither the minister nor the bureaucrat­s in her long-term care department did enough when there was a lull in the pandemic to prevent the second wave of COVID from being as devastatin­g as the first.”

C.A.R.P. makes its case for Fullerton’s removal by pointing to the government’s own COVID-19 data. By early January 2021, more than 40 per cent of the province’s 626 nursing homes were dealing with outbreaks and it was projected that the death toll would be higher in the second wave than the 2,000-plus who died in the first. More revealing, says Cravit, is that 60 per cent of Ontario’s second wave death total came among nursing home residents – the same percentage that occurred in the first wave.

Cravit asserts that during the summer, when everyone was warning of a second wave, Fullerton’s ministry should have been preparing by inspecting homes, improving infection prevention and control procedures, and securing protective equipment. Most importantl­y, they failed to hire extra staff.

Fullerton spoke publicly about the need to address the precarious shortage of long-term care personal support workers (PSWs) – who perform the bulk of the work and care inside nursing homes. Her response – which came too late and was largely unsuccessf­ul – was to offer PSWs a temporary three-dollar-an-hour raise, bumping their average wage to $21 an hour.

Provinces like Quebec and B.C. both did much better in responding to their own PSW shortages. In June last year, Quebec launched an aggressive recruiting campaign that covered the training costs of new recruits and upped the pay of long-term care workers to $26 an hour. And in July, B.C. added new PSWs by retraining laid-off workers from the hospitalit­y industry.

“All summer long, there were things the long-term care ministry should have done to prepare for a second-wave they knew was coming, but they didn’t. And now we’re paying for that inaction,” says Cravit. “Why should Fullerton keep her job?”

C.A.R.P. stresses that its campaign to oust the minister is not politicall­y motivated, pointing out that many of the problems that bedevil long-term care are the result of years of neglect by the previous Liberal government.

The petition includes a space for comments, which reveal the anger and frustratio­n many Ontarians expressed over the government’s mishandlin­g of the pandemic as they watched their loved ones suffer or die in long-term care homes.

“These comments alone make a compelling case that it’s time the premier moved and fired his longterm care minister,” says Cravit. “It’s obvious she has lost the confidence of the public.”

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 ??  ?? C.A.R.P. is calling on Premier Doug Ford (left, with Health Minister Christine Elliot) to fire Dr. Merrillee Fullerton (inset) for failing to protect nursing home residents.
C.A.R.P. is calling on Premier Doug Ford (left, with Health Minister Christine Elliot) to fire Dr. Merrillee Fullerton (inset) for failing to protect nursing home residents.

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