Military reports 'shocking' conditions in Ontario nursing homes

 

A new report from the military helping battle COVID-19 in five long-term care facilities in Ontario has exposed the extent of the ugly conditions facing residents, Premier Doug Ford said on Tuesday, as he raised the prospect of criminal charges.

The report, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said was heart-breaking, found people left in filth for weeks, others left on the floor where they had fallen, cockroach infestations, people choking while being improperly fed, patients with brutal pressure sores, and people pleading for help for hours to no avail.

“It’s appalling. It’s disgusting,” an emotional Ford said as he grasped for words. “The dignity of these patients in long-term care, not being cleaned? These are standard operating procedures.”

At the request of Quebec and Ontario, the Canadian Armed Forces have been helping out at nursing homes, which overall have accounted for most of Canada’s 6,566 deaths from COVID-19. More than 80 per cent of fatalities in Quebec have been in such facilities.

Ford, who said he was concerned at least some other homes in the province and elsewhere in Canada were in a similar crisis, said he was making the entire document public.

“The public needs to see these reports,” Ford said. “You need to know exactly what I know.”

The five Ontario facilities cited in the report are Orchard Villa in Pickering (69 deaths), Grace Manor in Brampton (11 deaths), and three Toronto homes: Altamont Care Community, with 52 deaths, Eatonville Care Centre, with 42, and Hawthorne Place, with 39.

Ford, who said he had asked the Canadian Forces to extend its current mission in the homes for another 30 days, thanked the military for exposing the issues. He called it the worst report he had ever read, and promised action to fix what he called a broken system.

“It was gut-wrenching. I was up all night thinking of this,” Ford said. “There’ll be accountability, there’ll be justice.”

The premier said one death had been referred to the chief coroner, who would share findings with police for a possible criminal investigation. Inspectors would also be looking into “critical incidents.”

In Ottawa, Trudeau said the report had left him saddened and infuriated. Trudeau, who left it to Ford to provide details, called what he had read “deeply disturbing” and said there was no doubt Canada had to do much better when it comes to supporting seniors in long-term care homes.

“There are things in there that are extremely troubling,” Trudeau said.

Quebec’s ombudswoman said she would investigate why so many seniors died from COVID-19 in facilities for older seniors.

The COVID deployment has exposed military members to both the conditions seniors are living in as well as to the virus.

As of Tuesday, the Armed Forces reported that 36 members working in long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec had become sick -- a 30 per cent jump in less than a week. Of those, 22 infected were in Quebec and 14 in Ontario.

Some good news did emerge from Ontario, which reported its lowest number of new cases -- 287 -- in more than two weeks. That’s down sharply from the more than 400 cases a day reported over the previous five days. However, 21 more people died from the disease.

The ongoing battle to keep the novel coronavirus in check comes as a blanket of hot, humid air has settled over much of South Central Canada, while anti-pandemic measures have closed many of the usual places where people might seek relief.

Heatwaves can be dangerous for those with underlying health conditions and in Quebec, for example, only about one-third of long-term care rooms have access to air conditioning. Elsewhere, with malls, swimming pools, and cooling centres closed to help curb the spread of COVID-19, authorities have been trying to come up with ways to mitigate the concern.

The City of Toronto, for example, has opened six designated sites from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at otherwise idled community centres. The six centres have a total combined capacity of about 580 people -- or one person for every four square metres -- a stark contrast to the hundreds of sites that would normally be available to cool off.

Environment Canada did say conditions would moderate significantly in the next few days.

The comments from Trudeau and Ford came after a new poll found a substantial mistrust of governments when it comes to the pandemic. Half of Canadians said governments were hiding information about COVID-19, while some said they believed conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, according to the survey from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies.

-With files from Canadian Press reporters across the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2020.

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