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Long-term care needs action now, not in 2025

in Opinion by

Just last month, many unions and health advocates for long-term care were initially ecstatic to learn that the Ontario government was finally taking the necessary steps to improve quality of care for seniors in Ontario.

The government announced it would establish a new standard that would ensure that residents in nursing homes receive an “average of four hours of direct care, every day,” up from the 2.75 hours of care they receive now on average.

However, the glow immediately faded when we learned that Premier Doug Ford’s pledge would not be achieved until 2024–2025. Waiting up to five years is insulting to residents and their families and is totally unacceptable in our current long-term care crisis.

More than 2,100 long-term care residents have died to date in Ontario during the pandemic, which is inexcusable. The Haliburton-CKL Long-Term Care Coalition believes that if Ford had the political will to do so, he could and would fast-track this process now to prevent further deaths.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Frank Marrocco released an interim report from the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission. The report said that Ontario must increase hours of care to four hours per resident per day, increase funding to hire more personal support workers and nurses, increase inspections and have a dedicated staff person in each home who is responsible for infection control procedures and compliance.

Minister of Long-Term Care Merilee Fullerton responded to a letter from the Haliburton-CKL Long-Term Care Coalition early last month, about the need for immediate action on this issue. Fullerton estimated the cost to be $1.75 billion to develop and redevelop long-term care homes.

The plan will require significant changes in the sector, like educating and recruiting tens of thousands of new personal support workers, registered practical nurses and registered nurses. About 50,000 eligible workers will receive a temporary wage increase of $3 an hour. As part of the plan, the government has dedicated another $405 million to assist homes with prevention and containment, Fullerton wrote.

The recent Ontario budget not only fell short of the funding required, but it also felt empty, considering the timelines involved. Michael Hurley, regional vice president of CUPE, said the government’s pledge “is meaningless if it doesn’t come with a detailed plan to hire thousands of workers.

“You have to have targets about the number of people that you were planning to recruit each year, and a methodology for getting to that target.”

Our group is astounded that an interim report from the Long-Term Care COVID 19 Commission, which offered specific recommendations, has not begun to be implemented. There was no new money allocated in the recent budget — not even empty promises.

We as citizens need to contact Ford and all of our respective government representatives at all levels and say, “Our Seniors Matter” and they need change now, before we needlessly lose another life.

–by Bonnie Roe, co-chair of the Haliburton-CKL Long-Term Care Coalition. 

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