Opinion: No one acted to prevent Ontario's COVID deaths in LTC

Government officials look us in the eye and tell us nobody is more important than our elders — but don’t mean it.

Ottawa Citizen 4 minute read May 7, 2021

Crosses of remembrance for loved ones lost to the COVID-19 dot the lawn outside a long-term care home, on March 9, 2021. PST

It’s amazing to realize it has taken a pandemic, thousands of deaths and a comprehensive commission report to tell us that treating humans like products from which to make a profit is a terrible idea. Prioritizing the economy over people hurts both, whereas putting people at the centre of care, as the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission report recommends, benefits both. If only we could have thought of that by ourselves.

The commission report, which came out late last Friday, makes for horrendous reading. Having followed along and read all the transcripts since September, I had a good idea what it would contain. Be honest now: Is there anything in there that surprises you?

The human tragedy that has gripped the province’s long-term care sector and is still making residents’ lives miserable more than a year later — Ontario is just now starting to lift some of the confinement restrictions where long-term care residents are vaccinated — was entirely predictable, predicted, and not at all prevented. Because we consistently refused to put people ahead of economic considerations.

The worst indictment from the report isn’t the low staff levels or the old buildings where people share bathrooms or the abuse we occasionally hear about. The worst indictment is the fact that everyone who should have known, knew in March 2020 that they needed to prevent long-term care staff from working in more than one home and needed to make masks mandatory. That evidence was crystal-clear and in jurisdictions that took those actions at that time the number of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care was much lower.

We allow ourselves to be governed by people who seem convinced that if the economy suffers, everything will fall apart.

And we haven’t said anything yet about bringing in sufficient paid sick leave so people with low economic clout and lower-paying jobs, including personal support workers, don’t go to work sick for fear of losing money they need to put a roof over their kids’ heads.

It took the Ontario government until the middle of April 2020 to decree that long-term care staff had to limit themselves to one home — a rule, by the way, that did not apply to agency personal support workers who continued to work in different homes because the economic model dictated it.

The Long-Term Care Commission report notes that the majority of long-term care residents who died in the first wave contracted COVID-19 between late March and late April 2020. How many lives would have been saved if the government had acted earlier? If masks and restricting all staff to one home had been implemented a month earlier, how many would have been spared the agony of suffocating to death?

This information has been known for months. It was in the Ontario auditor general’s November report.  It was also in a report by Revera released shortly after that. Yet we’ve had no accountability, just excuses and tiresome finger-pointing. All the people who made those decisions more than a year ago, who waited to implement measures they knew were necessary to prevent deaths that were preventable, are still in their jobs today.

And by the time the May long weekend rolls around we won’t even be talking about the Long-Term Care Commission report anymore. We’ll have moved on to something else.

You bet it makes me angry. We allow ourselves to be governed by people who seem convinced that if the economy suffers, everything will fall apart. We agree to be governed by politicians who believe certain people’s work is essential but the people themselves are expendable. We agree to be governed by officials who look us in the eye and tell us nobody is more important than our elders and don’t mean it.

It’s when people suffer that everything goes to bits. Healthy people work hard and innovate. Dead people don’t contribute to GDP. Severe, widespread trauma costs society untold amounts in lost opportunities.

“We cannot forget the lessons learned form this pandemic,” the Long-Term Care Commission report says. As long as we continue to treat humans as nothing more than expendable tools to keep the economy going, we will absolutely not remember anything.

 Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer. Read the full commission report at: www.ltccommission-commissionsld.ca

 

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