By MPP Toby Barrett   

Since COVID-19 emerged, I have received hundreds of calls and e-mails about long-term care homes and have been passing these concerns to Ontario’s Long-Term Care Minister Marilee Fullerton, Minister of Health Christine Elliott, and Seniors’ Minister Raymond Cho.  

This pandemic has hit long-term care homes across Ontario, and across the world, hard.  Every region and every ownership type and model have been impacted.  

Our government’s top priority is Ontarians’ health and well-being, especially our most vulnerable. We have invested $1.38 billion to ensure our long-term care homes and health care partners have what they need.    

Addressing urgent staff shortages   

With our health care partners, we have addressed staff shortages in long-term care by enabling staff deployment and the use of infection prevention and control teams.     

We immediately deployed rapid-response health care professionals, opened a portal to match workers with vacant positions, launched a Personal Support Worker Return of Service program, and provided long-term care homes with interim staffing.   

Addressing systemic staffing challenges   

Facing staffing challenges caused by decades of neglect and underfunding, we have launched one of the largest recruitment and training drives in history to deliver on our commitment to provide an average of four hours of daily direct care for residents. This will make Ontario the Canadian leader in creating a better environment for residents and staff.   

To implement our staffing plan, we are making additional annual investments, up to $1.9 billion invested annually by 2024-25 to create more than 27,000 new long-term care positions for personal support workers, registered nurses, and registered practical nurses.   

Protecting staff, residents, and caregivers   

To ensure a steady stream of personal protective equipment (PPE), Ontario launched the PPE Supply Program to provide long-term care homes with eight weeks worth of N95 respirators. We also invested $30 million to allow long-term care homes to hire more infection prevention and control staffing, including $20 million for additional personnel, and $10 million for staff training.    

Most recently, $1.434 million was invested in the riding’s long-term care homes to support further prevention and containment efforts.  

Enhanced testing requirements during the second wave   

There was $398 million  recently announced for long-term care homes to reduce the risk of the virus entering from the community. This will help homes adhere to enhanced staff and visitor testing requirements, and to support costs associated with screening, staffing, supplies, and measures necessary to prevent and contain outbreaks.   

Ontario’s vaccination plan is underway   

Phase One of Ontario’s vaccine implementation plan continues by ensuring that all long-term care home residents, health care workers, and essential caregivers are vaccinated. Vaccination has started in Haldimand-Norfolk, and the process moves as fast as vaccine availability, which is a federal government responsibility.   

Ontario’s inspection process is the most rigorous in Canada   

As recommended by Ontario’s Auditor General, the Ministry of Long-Term Care uses a risk-based inspection program. This allows us to respond to urgent concerns and to clear inspection backlogs. This framework ensures every home is inspected at least once annually and homes with complaints, critical incidents, or a history of non-compliance and other risk factors are subject to extended inspections.   

Inspectors have been essential to monitoring and tracking conditions at our 626 homes. They have been in regular contact to ensure they are getting what’s required related to staff capacity, outbreak status, supply of PPE, and other critical needs.  

There is a growing body of data and research showing that the driving factor of the most significant outbreaks was the age of the home. Older homes had more ward beds, which made it more difficult to cohort positive and negative residents and contain the spread of COVID-19. This is why our government committed $1.75 billion over five years in a comprehensive effort to upgrade old beds to modern standards and build new beds.  

We have now seen a year of very tough times. I want to thank all frontline health care workers at long-term care homes and their hospital partners for working around the clock to help stop the spread of the virus.    

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk