Ontario’s Shame: Private Sector Long Term Care
“Care Not Profits.” That is the slogan embraced by a coalition of passionate lobbyists calling for profound changes to Ontario’s Long-Term Care system in the wake of startling revelations of neglect this summer.
As the headline above suggests, the protesters are calling for the end of privatization of Long-Term Care Homes in the province.
Easier said than done.
Private Long-Term Care has been entrenched as a staple in Ontario since Mike Harris was Premier (1995 to 2002). Dismantling the model would drive the province much deeper into crippling debt.
I’m all for free enterprise, but not when it imperils the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. This is not an industry private corporations should control.
Critics of the current government of Premier Doug Ford point to reports that 57 percent of Ontario Long-Term Care Homes are run by private operators, more than any other province.
One of the prime advocates of the privatization campaign is CARP, formerly known as the Canadian Association for Retired Persons.
A difference maker in this fight is 84 year old Henry Johnson, Secretary of CARP’s Windsor-Essex Chapter 7.
He was Chief Organizer of a “CARP Advocacy Walk”, where walkers were advocating for a voice for seniors in Long-Term Care, on October 18 in Windsor.
Windsor Essex emerged as a hot spot in the province-wide crisis exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are 19 Long-Term Care (LTC) Homes and 23 Retirement Homes in Windsor Essex. As of late October, since the start of the pandemic there have been 76 deaths due to COVID-19, in the region. Fifty-three of those resided in LTC Homes and Retirement Homes (according to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit).
Prior to the awareness walk, Johnson, supported by CUPE, Unifor and Service Employee International (SEIU) unions, penned a letter to Premier Ford demanding “Care Not Profits.”
The letter claims that amidst all the pain, suffering and COVID-19 deaths of seniors in Ontario, three of the largest companies in the sector paid out $58 million in dividends to shareholders.
“The profit should be turned back to the Long-Term Care Homes for the welfare of residents,” Johnson told me in an interview.
CARP claims the money should have gone to care for vulnerable residents and hiring front line workers at a living wage.
Profit facilities have 17% fewer staff than non-profit homes and are slower to upgrade air conditioning and other infectious disease control measures, CARP claims.
It caught Premier Ford’s attention when his mother-in-law tested positive for COVID-19 in a Toronto LTC Home.
He has appointed a commission, which is investigating the findings of the Canadian Armed Forces in September. The forces visited seven LTC Homes in the province and found cockroaches, bug infestations, rotting food, soiled linens and other disturbing conditions.The Premier described the conditions as “horrendous, despicable and intolerable,” and promised to spare no expense to fix the crisis. The commission is due to table its final report by next April.
It recently released an interim report that recommends four hours of direct care a day, per resident. The trouble with that is a shortage of 6,000 Personal Service Workers (PSWs) in the province. Burned out PSWs have been leaving the profession in droves.
I interviewed Mike Cardinal, high profile owner of the independent west end Retirement Home, Cardinal Place (3140 Peter Street, Windsor and online at: CardinalPlace.ca), to get his take on the travesty.
Retirement Homes are self-funded residences that provide rental accommodation with care and services for seniors who can live independently with minimal to moderate support. They receive no government funding.
LTC Homes are for adults who need access to on-site 24-hour nursing care and frequent assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing, eating and general hygiene. Cardinal says many homes have cut back on their cleaning, which exposes residents to life threatening Clostridium difficile infections.
LTC Homes, according to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, receive $180.80 per day (base Level of Care) per qualified resident in subsidies from the government, and that money can be gobbled up by the profit takers.
“The amount of fat at the top of some of those large corporations is just disgusting,” says Cardinal. He finds it “horrifying” that PSWs at some understaffed LTC Homes are allowed only five or 10 minutes to wash, dress and feed dementia patients, in the morning. He uses the analogy of an assembly line with row upon row of four seniors in a room allowing COVID-19 to spread more easily.
While he finds such practices deplorable, Cardinal does not agree that all privately-owned LTC Homes should be banned.
“Why wipe out those companies that are doing a good job?” he asks.
Inspectors can quickly unearth who the bad actor operators are by simply talking to PSWs who have moved from home to home.
There are pitfalls, however. Johnson’s group has advocated for a national standard of care, an idea Prime Minister Justin Trudeau latched onto recently. Trudeau offered money, but the provinces, including Ontario, rejected the idea, saying setting health care standards is a provincial responsibility.
Prior to the pandemic, the province scaled back on random inspections of LTC Homes, but the heat has been turned up on that issue, given what the military discovered. I say that random, drop-in inspections are the way to go if resident care in LTC Homes is to be maintained at acceptable levels.
Some unionized PSWs are not badly paid. I’m told that staff in certain Windsor LTC Homes receive $24 an hour, but Johnson says many of the part-time workers are single women with children and have left the industry because they can’t make a go of it.
The Ford government, on October 1, started upping the pay of PSWs by $3 per hour, but so far that is a temporary measure to attract workers.
Recently, adds Johnson, local operators won’t hire workers who also work for some other home. That too has driven caregivers from the profession.
“Stop Warehousing Seniors,” was plastered all over CARP’s calling card, urging supporters to attend its October walk. The pamphlet calls for a new model of care for our precious seniors, a family-centred care, small home like environments, higher staff to resident ratios, full-time, well-paid staff that are trained in empathy.
“We treat our children very, very well,” concludes Johnson, a former teacher. “We need to bring our care of seniors up to the same standard.”
Amen to that!