Health coalition fights for public care homes, Sudbury meeting says

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“We have the worst infection and death rates in our long-term care homes in the developed world”

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With Queen’s Park distributing more beds to private care homes and a provincial election looming, the local chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition is gearing up for a big fight to preserve and improve care for seniors.

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“We need to improve and protect public health care and not enter another year with staffing crises,” Melissa Wood, co-chair of the Sudbury Health Coalition, said at an emergency summit held via Zoom on Wednesday. evening. “The (Doug) Ford government is halfway through awarding 18,000 long-term care beds to for-profit companies under 30-year contracts, unless we stop them.”

Speaker after speaker noted how the pandemic has exposed huge gaps and disparities in the long-term care system, with private homes far more likely to skimp on protective equipment and leave residents in embarrassment.

“We represent workers in non-profit, municipal and for-profit homes,” said Katha Fortier, Unifor leader and nurse by profession. “And everyone just knows that when you work for a for-profit operator, almost 99 times out of 100, they prioritize profit.”

The public system, meanwhile, “has been starved for decades,” she said, and the long-term sector as a whole is facing staff shortages and rapid turnover.

“Healthcare workers are traumatized,” she said. “They went through what is essentially a humanitarian crisis.”

Few private companies offer full-time work “and when you go to the bargaining table, these employers still offer wage increases well below inflation,” Fortier said. “For-profit care in long-term care is nothing but a dismal failure and we need to make sure we vote on this, on stopping privatization.”

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Ultimately, it’s the residents who suffer, noted Natalie Mehra, head of the Ontario Health Coalition.

She used the example of a woman named Margaret who had been a foster parent to many in her youth, but was “suffering alone and without care” in a short-staffed nursing home.

“His life was precious; he was an amazing human being,” she said. “She was loved by her family and her community and by all the children she cared for, and as a society we should have considered her life precious. Instead, Margaret died in August in a hospital after months of decline and inadequate care at her long-term care home.

Although many seniors have succumbed to COVID-19 over the past two years, that’s not really what caused Margaret’s death.

“She was isolated in her long-term care home and didn’t get the foot care her family paid extra for, so she developed painful sores and infected blisters,” Mehra said. “She did not receive her painkillers and eventually died of kidney failure and a urinary tract infection which was left untreated. Margaret didn’t die of COVID; she died of neglect.

COVID, however, has certainly taken its toll as well.

Mehra said more than 4,500 long-term care home residents have now died from the virus, along with 13 staff, in just two years.

“But that doesn’t sum it all up,” she said. “Of the locals, more than 25,000 have been infected.”

This represents one-third of the approximately 75,000 people currently residing in long-term care facilities in Ontario. On top of that, at least 12,000 employees have contracted COVID.

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“It’s not normal,” Mehra said. “It didn’t happen all over the world. In fact, we have the worst infection and death rates in our long-term care homes of any developed country. »

COVID-related mortalities have been much higher among private facilities, the OHC president pointed out.

“What we’ve seen in long-term care homes in Ontario is that for-profit homes have five times the mortality rate of public homes,” she said. “It’s a systemic problem.”

Mehra said there needs to be more accountability for homes that fail to protect residents and greater investment in health care generally.

“Ontario now has the fewest hospital beds per person of any province in Canada,” she said. “We actually have the fewest beds left per person of any peer nation on earth. The only two OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries that have fewer hospital beds than us are Mexico and Chile.

Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, said Queen’s Park is doing more to help businesses pay their electricity bills than it is for its most vulnerable and fragile people.

“Ontario will spend an additional $231 million next year on long-term care, and $5 billion over four years,” he said. “But as a Globe article pointed out, we’re going to spend $24 billion over four years to subsidize electricity rates, much of which will go to businesses.”

That gap “puts our priorities as a society into context,” Hurley said. “You would think we would be so ashamed, after our failure to stand up for our residents in long-term care facilities, that improving their conditions would be a huge priority for us.”

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Hurley said the average death rate in private long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic was 5.2%, compared to 2.8% for nonprofits and 1.4% for homes run by the municipality.

The latter have the highest staffing levels, he noted, followed by nonprofits.

“It has been well documented for years that there is a problem with the quality of care, especially in for-profit care,” he said. “It is only natural that profit taking will intensify, but the higher rates of return for shareholders are to be found in the bodies and suffering of the people who are in the clutches of these operators.”

With the provincial election months away, Hurley said now is the time to protest and reverse the tide toward more privatization.

“We’re so good because in Ontario, unlike so many other provinces, we have such a vibrant health coalition and a great network,” he said. “When we unite all allies, we are incredibly powerful.”

In the past, public pressure has thwarted the privatization of ambulance services, he noted, as well as the privatization of cancer care.

“We have a history of activism and a wonderful argument here, in terms of why health care should be provided on a not-for-profit basis,” he said. “We just need to energize ourselves.”

As part of its campaign to pressure politicians and inspire voters, the coalition will be distributing lawn signs in Sudbury in the coming weeks, as well as window signs and car stickers, all stressing the need to keep health care public.

“No more seniors are suffering,” read one of the posts. “Care cannot wait.”

The group also discussed purchasing space on a billboard or multiple billboards in the Sudbury area to further promote their message.

An event is also in the works for Tom Davies Square on May 1, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees will be hosting a rally in early May.

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