Ontario’s watchdog launches investigation into long term care

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he welcomes an investigation by Ontario’s ombudsman into long term care in the province.

The government watchdog announced Monday it would start investigating why nursing homes are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 and if they were properly prepared. The Ombudsman does not normally investigate health issues – that’s the job of the Patient Ombudsman’s office which was created by the last Liberal government and which Health Minister Christine Elliott once led.

Officials in the Ombudsman’s office says they routinely receive concerns about long-term care – including 100 complaints from the public in 2019, which are given to the Patient Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Paul Dube says he is invoking his authority to investigate on his own initiative – without receiving complaints – in light of the grave concerns raised by COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes across the province, and the report last week by Canadian military personnel that revealed shocking conditions in five such homes.

“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis; our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action,” the Ombudsman said in a news release. “Determining the root causes of administrative dysfunction and recommending practical solutions is what we do.”

The investigation will look at standards, polices and oversight of long term care homes. It will also look at the way complaints have been handled, how the ministry handled inspections, emergency planning and what happened during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The pandemic has strained public services immensely, but also demonstrated how vital they are,” Dubé says. “Never has it been more important to ensure that these systems are working as they should. This is where we can help, as an independent, impartial expert in administrative systems. We are uniquely suited to investigate systemic governance issues and to propose solutions that enhance transparency, accountability, and fairness.”

Premier Doug Ford, welcomed the investigation. The premier has said there will be an independent commission looking into how COVID-19 was handled in long term care starting in July. He’s rejected calls by opposition MPPs to hold a public inquiry.
“I would welcome the ombudsman to come in here,” Ford says adding he’s already asked Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, chief coroner and the OPP to look into what happened at the five homes the Canadian military was called into. All of those homes are under alternative management led by hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area.

“I need answers. I want answers, we need to get this fixed and I want to get this fixed.”

But Ford rejected suggestions other nursing homes should be taken over by the province. There are 19 homes the province has said are in the “red zone” and not meeting standards. Officials won’t name which ones. When asked by reporters if more should be taken over, Ford says that may come later and then he added until the situation was under control, even families would not be allowed in to see what was going on.

“It could be a month, it could be a couple of months, but we’re working very hard with public health to see if there could be a time when people could go in and see their loved ones.”