05/26/2020 13:52 EDT | Updated 05/26/2020 17:40 EDT

Military Says It Found Disturbing Conditions In Ontario Care Homes

Canadian Armed Forces found shocking conditions at five Ontario long-term care homes grappling with outbreaks of COVID-19.

TORONTO — Soldiers deployed to five Ontario long-term care homes struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks found disturbingly bad conditions, a new report says.

When they arrived at the homes to help with the novel coronavirus pandemic in early May, members of the Canadian Armed Forces found cockroach infestations, force-feeding and residents left crying for hours.

“I think it’s appalling. I think it’s disgusting what’s happened,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters shortly after the document’s release Tuesday. 

“It was hard to get through. It was the worst report, the most heart-wrenching report I have ever read in my entire life.”

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford fights back tears as he answers questions about a disturbing report from the Canadian military regarding five long-term-care homes in Toronto on May 26, 2020.

Ford’s government called in the military to assist at five homes in late April. Soldiers were not sent with a mandate to write a report but felt obligated to bring the conditions to the government’s attention, Ontario officials said at a background briefing Tuesday. The federal government told Ford’s Progressive Conservatives about the situation.

Four of the homes in the report are privately owned and one is run by a not-for-profit, the officials said. The full report can be read here.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
A body is wheeled from the Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke, Ont. during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 14, 2020.

At Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke, where 42 people have died of COVID-19, soldiers’ observations included: 

  • A dozen patients had bleeding fungal infections caused by “very poor” catheter care; 
  • There was a “general culture of fear [among staff] to use supplies because they cost money” and vital supplies were left under lock and key; 
  • Much of the medication in stock had expired months prior;
  • COVID-19-positive residents were allowed to wander around the home; 
  • Residents who tested positive for COVID-19 continued to share rooms with those who tested negative;
  • Staff were not following protocol for personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Residents were “often sedated with narcotics when they are likely just sad or depressed in a context where there isn’t the staffing to support the level of care and companionship they need”;
  • Staff were aggressive and inappropriate with residents.

In North York’s Hawthorne Place Care Centre, where 39 people have died with the novel coronavirus, the military said it found:

  • Residents given food and water by force causing “audible choking”;
  • Equipment was almost never disinfected between use on COVID-positive and COVID-negative patients;
  • “Little to no disinfection” had been done before the military arrived;
  • “Significant gross fecal contamination” in numerous patient rooms;
  • Infestations of ants and cockroaches;
  • Fans blowing in the hallways even though that increased the spread of COVID-19;
  • Residents had not been bathed for weeks.
Flowers sit on a bench in front of Orchard Villa care home in Pickering, Ont., on April 27, 2020. This facility is one of five mentioned in a new report on long-term care homes in Ontario.

At Orchard Villa home in Pickering, where 69 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19, the reported concerns include:

  • Staff did not sit residents up before feeding them even though that can cause choking — and in one case “appeared to have contributed in patient death”;
  • Infestations of cockroaches and flies and the smell of rotten food;
  • Inappropriate use of PPE;
  • Patients left in soiled diapers instead of being moved to toilets;
  • Staff took away walking aids or put mattresses on the floor so that residents could not get up;
  • Burnt out staff who did not respect the dignity of their patients;
  • And “no accountability for staff in regards to upholding basic care needs or best practices.”
Chris Young/Canadian Press
A resident at Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, Ont. receives a Mother's Day visit from her family on May 10, 2020.

In Scarborough, 52 people have died with COVID-19 at Altamont Care Community, where the soldiers said:

  • Residents were not receiving three meals a day;
  • A “significant number” of residents had pressure wounds from not being moved;
  • “... Many of the residents had been bed bound for several weeks” and there was “no evidence of residents being moved to wheelchair for parts of day, repositioned in bed or washed properly”;
  • A resident who cannot speak wrote a “disturbing letter” alleging they were being neglected and abused by a staff member;
  • Staff reported that they’d given out medication when they had not.

At the fifth home, Holland Christian Homes’ Grace Manor in Brampton, 11 residents have died with COVID-19. The soldiers mentioned:

  • Staff left the COVID-positive unit without changing their contaminated PPE;
  • Some staff did not follow infection control policies like washing their hands or changing their gloves between patients;
  • Staff were aggressive with residents and in one case a worker left food in a patient’s mouth while they were sleeping;
  • Workers did not help residents eat: “would rather write the resident refused to eat, rather than helping them.”
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Ontario Premier Doug Ford leaves the podium after answering questions about a disturbing report from the Canadian military regarding COVID-19 outbreaks at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 26, 2020.

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton said the conditions at these homes have improved since the military went in.

Ford said he only learned how bad the circumstances were yesterday and vowed to improve the system.

The military got a better view of what was going on than the ministry has had through its inspections, he said. 

“It took the military to be there 24/7 every single day … You can have an inspection in there for a couple days, three days, a week … You don’t realize until you are there late at night.”

There will be accountability. There will be justice for those residents and their families.Premier Doug Ford

He said the allegations will be shared with police and could lead to criminal charges. 

“I know the public wants answers and I promise you … I will get those answers. There will be accountability. There will be justice for those residents and their families.”

The premier also said he is willing to do anything to fix Ontario’s long-term care system, even if that means taking control of every privately-operated home. 

“Once we get every single detail, that decision will be made.”

But he also said it would be “unfair” to paint every home with the same brush and noted that a majority of long-term care homes in Ontario have not had a COVID-19 outbreak.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for the minister’s resignation.

“I can tell you now, Mr. Ford has no choice but to take responsibility, be accountable and require the resignation of Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long Term Care,” she wrote on Twitter.

“We need inspections, takeovers of all homes that are not safe, and we need to launch a full, transparent public inquiry,” she added in a statement.

“Beyond that, it’s shocking that the Canadian Armed Forces needed to lift the veil, when Doug Ford and Merrilee Fullerton ought to have known about these horrific conditions, and did nothing to take the homes over.” 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the allegations in the report “deeply disturbing.”

“There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action,” Trudeau said in Ottawa Tuesday morning. 

Speaking in French, he added that he was shocked and angry when he saw the report. 

“On reading the deeply disturbing report I obviously had a range of emotions, of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief. It is extremely troubling and as I have said from the very beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country, through this pandemic and beyond.” 

Canadians living in long-term care have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Ontario, 1,335 people living in care homes have died of the disease, representing 63 per cent of the total 2,123 deaths.

With files from Ryan Maloney

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