TORONTO — The Ford government proactively inspected 11 — or less than two per cent — of the province’s 626 long-term care homes from March 1 until October 15 this year, the province’s commission said in a report Friday.
The government’s 2018 decision to cut proactive inspections meant issues with infection prevention and personal protective equipment (PPE) weren’t identified ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission said.
Under the previous Liberal government, almost all long-term care homes received annual “resident quality inspections” (RQIs). The Ford government now focuses on inspecting high-risk homes, leaving out the vast majority.
Only 27 homes had an RQI in 2019, the first full year the Progressive Conservatives were in power, the commission’s report said.
“This reduction in RQIs which are intended to provide a holistic review of operations in the homes left the Ministry with an incomplete picture of the state of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) and emergency preparedness,” the commission said in its new interim report.
“This is a key gap as RQIs are the only resident-focused inspections that must include a review of IPAC. By their nature, a complaint about day-to-day issues in a home is very unlikely to identify problems with equipment and processes that would be used in an emergency.
‘No indications’ the government did inspections when pandemic began
“Importantly, we have found no indications that proactive RQIs were initiated by the [ministry] when COVID-19 outbreaks began globally.”
The government still does inspections when there is a critical incident, like an injured resident, or when a resident or family member complains.
Ontario announced the commission into what went wrong in long-term care in May. It started its work early after soldiers exposed horrific conditions in five homes that were hit particularly hard by the virus.
The majority of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths are linked to long-term care. More than 8,700 residents have been infected and 2,265 have died as of Friday. Families have said that residents were not isolated from roommates who had the virus or showed symptoms and in one case, that staff refused to transfer patients to a hospital or give them oxygen.
Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton has insisted throughout the autumn that homes with outbreaks of COVID-19 have adequate staff and PPE. But a worker at one Scarborough, Ont.-home where 39 people have died recently told HuffPost Canada that isn’t true.
“It’s just amazing. Sometimes even gloves — basic gloves — they don’t have,” the worker said.
I know the public wants answers and I promise you … I will get those answers.Premier Doug Ford on May 26
It’s “appalling” that the homes were failing to follow “standard operating procedures” like cleaning patients or lifting them up before feeding them, Ford said at the time.
“I know the public wants answers and I promise you … I will get those answers.”
Fullerton said in a statement Friday that the government was already working on some of the problems the commissioners identified in their new report.
“We thank the Commissioners for their continuing guidance and for providing additional recommendations in such a timely manner,” she said. “We struck this Commission so that residents, families, and staff could get answers quickly, even as we are in the midst of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Ontario NDP’s deputy leader said the report was proof of the “devastating consequences” of cancelling comprehensive inspections.
“Doug Ford tried to save a buck by cancelling annual comprehensive inspections … That cut is costing us so much more. It’s costing us lives,” MPP Sara Singh told reporters by teleconference.
“Doing the bare minimum and denying that there is a crisis isn’t working.”
This story has been updated with comment from the Ontario NDP.
CLARIFICATION: A previous headline on this story said Ontario had not inspected 98 per cent of long-term care homes for infection protocol and PPE. The government has not proactively inspected 98 per cent of homes for those issues, but some of its reactive inspections may include infection prevention plans.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said there were 651 long-term care homes in Ontario. There are 626.