As I write this editorial, 573 elderly residents have died in Ontario after contracting the COVID-19 virus in long-term care facilities. Thirty-one of those residents have died in Ottawa.
The sad truth is that most of those deaths could have been prevented. The provincial government’s failure to protect the most vulnerable residents among us amounts to nothing less than a grievous dereliction of duty. While the public health officials and the politicians will say they were caught off guard by the impact the virus has had on seniors homes, that’s B.S. pure and simple.
The canary in the coal mine event occurred at the Life Care Centre nursing home in Washington state where four residents had died from the virus by February 29. By March 14, 20 more residents had succumbed to the virus.
It’s unfathomable to think that public health officials on this side of the border were unaware of what was happening in Washington.
A week later, an outbreak was declared at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon. The first two deaths at the facility occurred on March 27, the same week the first two cases of the coronavirus were reported at the Promenade retirement home in Orléans.
Ontario didn’t impose a non-essential visitor ban until March 21 and even then it was for long-term and chronic care homes. While some private retirement homes followed suit, some didn’t.
It wasn’t that the homes were caught off guard, they were unprepared. Most had no personal protective equipment, which is critical to prevent staff who maybe asymptomatic from spreading the virus to the residents. Worse still was the reluctance of public health officials to test residents and especially staff members. They didn’t relent to the public pressure until last week, nearly a month after the first outbreak occurred in Bobcaygeon.
The deaths border on criminal negligence. A full inquiry needs to be held and those responsible need to be held accountable starting with the Minister of Health and the chief medical officer of health.
The first thing the inquiry should look at is why successive provincial governments ignored the findings and recommendations of the SARS inquiry held in 2003 which among other things recommended that “a two-month stockpile of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, gowns, eye protection and other clinical supplies should be available for rapid distribution through a central distribution system” should another SARS-like event happen.
Some family members of those who have died aren’t waiting for an inquiry, they’ve already started class action lawsuits. A Québec man has already filed a suit against the owners of the residence where his 94-year-old mother lived before she contracted the virus and died.
The suit also names the regional health authority responsible for the Ste-Dorothée long-term care home where 69 residents have died. While it’s the first class action suit in Canada tied to the deaths of long-term care residents, it most definitely won’t be the last.