By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Five local health coalitions continued their efforts to transform Ontario’s long-term care home policies and funding structure with a virtual protest held on Wednesday afternoon.
Chatham-Kent long-term care (LTC) representatives and family members of LTC residents shared stories from the front lines. The event was organized by the Ontario Health Coalition and joining them were other Southwestern Ontario LTC representatives.
“Mr. Ford announced back in December that there will not be any increase in funding for staffing until April of 2022. That’s woefully inadequate and it doesn’t help our long-term care loved ones now,” said Shirley Roebuck, chair of the Chatham-Kent and Sarnia chapters.
“So what we are pushing for is for the government to make legitimate realistic increases in funding and mandate better staffing and staff mixes, as well as infection control and safety.”
The event was held via Zoom and live casted on Facebook. The protest received more than 1,600 views.
Lucinda Allaer, a Sarnia resident whose 88-year-old dad, George, is currently living at Fairfield Park long-term care home in Wallaceburg, spoke of her experiences.
“He’s always filled with the joy of life and he has a wicked sense of humour. He used to carry around a fake finger in his pocket, which he would joyfully slip into his friend’s sandwich and then just sit back and wait for the enduring drama to subside…I mentioned that because it’s such a big difference to who he is today. My dad no longer laughs at all since he transitioned into long-term care.”
The Wallaceburg home recently underwent a COVID outbreak affecting 100 people. Two people died from COVID-19 and two other residents passed away from other causes after testing positive.
“My dad cries all of the time,” Allaer said. “He talks about suicide. He asks me to help him to die.”
The organizers also held a tribute for all residents and staff that died of COVID-19. To date 146 LTC residents and one staff member passed away from the virus in Southwestern Ontario.
In Ontario, 3,756 of its 7,024 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term homes. Eleven of those individuals were staff members and the rest residents.
The protest made a call-to-action, asking residents to email their local MPPs demanding better staffing and funding for long-term care.
Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington was sitting in the house and unavailable for comment.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, called the province’s staffing plan “woefully inadequate” and said it should look to Quebec where 10,000 personal support worker equivalents were brought in over the summer, trained in three months, and deployed in homes before the second wave hit.
“(Staffing) was in crisis prior to the pandemic, and we have lost a significant proportion of the staff during the pandemic,” she said. “Staffing levels are now the lowest that we’ve ever seen across Southwestern Ontario.”
Mehra said the government’s staffing plan, released in December, “embraces” what the health coalition has been lobbying for in the past decade which is a minimum care standard of four hours of hands on care for residents each day.
However, the beginning of those changes, which is expected to add 15 additional minutes of care per resident per day, will only be implemented in April 2022. The full plan will be implemented by 2025.
“It’s about the same number of staff that get trained each year anyway. And we have lost at least a third of the staff in the first wave and more in the second wave. So we’ve lost more than 15 minutes of care through the pandemic, on average per resident anyway. So this is cruelly slow,” Mehra said.
She added that the average lifespan of residents in long-term care homes is between 18 months and two years, so many will pass away before these changes are implemented.