TORONTO — More than 200 doctors and researchers are calling for immediate action to quell COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario’s nursing homes, describing current conditions as “a grave humanitarian crisis.”
“We’re just so appalled by what’s going on,” Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician who works in long-term care in the Greater Toronto Area, told HuffPost Canada. He’s the first signatory to a letter outlining the doctors’ concerns.
“We have scenarios where people are dying, not just from COVID-19, but are suffering and dying due to abandonment and neglect,” Dr. Arya said. “There’s scenarios where people are going without food and water and basic hygiene or other aspects that should be non-negotiables.”
The letter says the government’s actions to date “are too late, or sometimes, even non-existent.”
Doctors are still seeing poor infection control practices, dwindling staff numbers and a lack of transparency about what’s going on inside homes, the letter says. Residents are experiencing “continued abandonment and inhumane conditions,” it says. “This is a human rights violation.”
“The government has allowed the situation in our [long-term care] LTC homes to become a preventable and recurring crisis in the 2nd wave, with deaths across the entire province.”
Most of Ontario’s 626 homes are run by for-profit companies, but all of them receive government funding and are regulated and inspected by the province.
‘Real human beings with real faces’
“To be honest, it’s horrifying,” said Dr. Arya. “These are not numbers. These are really people. Real human beings with real faces, people who are somebody’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. These are people who built the very society we cherish.”
A spokesperson for Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton did not respond to a request for comment.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we put the resources in there,” he said.
Asked about the doctors’ demand to call back the military into homes, Ford passed the question to the health minister, who said the Red Cross was already helping out.
But advocates have pointed out that Red Cross volunteers cannot provide actual care for residents.
40 outbreaks with more than 50% of residents infected
The last time she took questions from reporters, Fullerton said the situation was not as bad as the numbers suggest and blamed the opposition NDP for scaring people.
“If we look at the actual numbers of outbreaks across Ontario, there are a much smaller number of homes that actually have resident cases and then from there a much smaller number of homes that actually have a serious outbreak. And that’s where the energy is going.”
Health advocates and family members of residents say the minister is downplaying the situation.
“A growing number of long-term care homes have a significant portion of their residents infected,” the non-partisan advocacy group Ontario Health Coalition said on its website Friday. “Even more disturbingly, we have found dozens of homes where the majority of the people who live there have been confirmed to have COVID-19.”
As of last Tuesday, there were 40 outbreaks where more than half of all residents had COVID-19, the group said.