Leaders of two federal political parties attended a rally outside a Toronto long-term care home on Sunday.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul joined a crowd of demonstrators outside St. George Care Community, a for-profit facility operated by Sienna Senior Living.
Both leaders called on the federal government to play a larger role in protecting long-term care residents in Ontario from COVID-19.
Singh said Ottawa should be working with the provinces to increase the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as the second wave of the pandemic continues. An increase in the number of people vaccinated against the novel coronavirus would help to prevent long-term care home deaths, he said.
“We’ve seen COVID-19 devastate seniors in our country. There’s no question about it. They have been disproportionately impacted and we have lost lives,” Singh said.
“Profit has been killing seniors. We need to get profit out of long-term care.”
Singh said he wants family members of long-term care home residents to know that what they and their relatives have experienced since the pandemic hit is completely unacceptable.
“It is heartbreaking and it is wrong. What is happening is just inexcusable. There is no excuse. These are our loved ones. These are some of the most vulnerable people,” he said. “You do not deserve this to happen to your family. If your loved one is in a care centre, you shouldn’t have to worry about them or worry about horrible conditions.”
Singh said there has been an “abject failure” of provincial leadership in Ontario on the part of Premier Doug Ford when it comes to long-term care residents.
“Premier Ford is completely failing seniors,” he added.
Paul’s father, Peter Paul, who was a resident at St. George Care Community, died in the spring after he developed an infection. Annamie Paul alleges his death was due to neglect.
“My dad didn’t die because of COVID-19 but because of the perfect storm of conditions that we had in the first wave and that we are seeing again in the second wave,” Paul told reporters.
“I am quite emotional right now. I am so grateful to every single person who came here today. The perfect storm is that we have facilities that are understaffed already before the pandemic hit.”
Paul made a plea on behalf of family member who still have relatives in long-term care homes or who have lost relatives in facilities to COVID-19.
“Please help. Please make sure that you follow the recommendations by our experts. They are clear, they are implementable and they would make a difference tomorrow if only there was the political will,” she said.
“All that remains is the political will to get the vaccinations into long-term care facilities, to get the rapid testing into long-term facilities, to make sure that the families who are the eyes and ears of their loved ones in these facilities have safe access so they can make sure that their loved ones are being taken care of and to make sure there is the staffing and the respect for the women who do this hard, back-breaking, dangerous work.”
According to Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), which signed a voluntary management contract for St. George Care Community on Jan. 4, there are currently 45 active cases of COVID-19 among residents and 28 among staff at the facility. The home, which has 238 beds, has 140 residents, UHN says.
A total of 17 residents have died in the latest outbreak. Fourteen of them had tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of their deaths.
At some point during the outbreak, UHN said, 142 residents and 82 staff members have had COVID-19. Among those, 97 resident cases and 54 staff cases have been marked as resolved.
Improvements underway at home, hospital network says
UHN said it has been working with Sienna Senior Living to improve staff, infection prevention and control, education on personal protective equipment, increased cleaning and environmental changes to the building.
The hospital network has established daily incident management calls and made changes to cleaning, laundry, the air handling system and the staffing ratios — all of which are working to control the spread of the virus.
It said UHN’s mobile vaccination team has visited the St. George home twice since Dec. 31 to vaccinate staff and all residents who don’t have COVID-19. So far, a total of 55 staff and 30 residents have been vaccinated.
“Six leaders from UHN have contributed expertise and on-the-ground oversight in a number of areas,” Dr. Joy Richards, the executive lead for UHN who is working with Sienna Living, said in a statement on Sunday.
“I am very grateful to my colleagues for all of the work they have done within St. George and we cannot declare the outbreak over as yet, but we have been more than a week without a new case, which is encouraging to everyone associated with the home.”
Krystle Caputo, press secretary for Ontario’s long-term care minister, Merrilee Fullerton, said in an email on Sunday: “We are confident in the ability of the University Health Network to continue to manage and stabilize St. George Care Community. We want to thank the staff at the University Health Network, along with those from the home, for working around the clock to help stop the outbreak.”
Sunday’s rally was organized by family members of long-term care home residents in Ontario.
The Ontario Health Coalition, a network of more than 400 grassroots community organizations, said the family groups are organizing protests every few days at homes in crisis in a bid to get adequate care and protection for their loved ones,
This is the latest rally organized by the family groups.
According to data released by the Ontario Ministry of Health, as of Sunday at 10:30 a.m., there were 245 long-term care homes in the province with active COVID-19 outbreaks. The number is an increase of 17 since Saturday.