This week, I was proud to speak on Bill 37, the Government’s bill to reform the long-term care home sector.
Bill 37 sets non-binding targets for increasing staffing care to residents to four hours a day by 2025, but there’s no funding in place to increase recruitment and retention, and they’re not hard enforceable targets. Second, Bill 37 increases the number of inspectors who investigate LTC homes, but we are concerned that enforcement will remain minimal.
The Bill is going to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly so speakers can present to the bill and amendments can be introduced. Go here to get the latest information on when you can submit comment and register to speak. If you are a University-Rosedale resident, please cc our office at [email protected] so we are aware of your feedback and ideas. We will continue to call for 50,000 new LTC beds, moving to a public and non-profit LTC home model, improving home care so more people can stay at home, permanently increasing PSW wages, and mandating four hours a day of PSW care for resident.
Here is the transcript of my full speech.
Ms. Jessica Bell: I’m proud to rise today to speak on Bill 37, the Providing More Care, Protecting Seniors, and Building More Beds Act, 2021. This bill is being introduced within a tragic context where 4,000 people died during the COVID-19 pandemic—which continues to this day—and 15,000 people who live in long-term-care homes were infected. That rate of death in long-term-care homes, 4,000 people, is one of the worst in the Western world. It’s certainly the worst in Canada.
I have three long-term-care homes in my riding that were significantly impacted by the pandemic: Vermont Square, St. George, and Mon Sheong Home for the Aged. My communications with the family councils, the staff, the regulators, the hospitals that were supporting them, the management, the workers—it was very clearly a crisis on so many levels. Words like “disorganized,” “chaotic,” “late,” “understaffed,” “no transparency,” “people dying alone with their loved ones watching them on an iPad”—it was awful.
What is so concerning is that now that the pandemic in long-term-care homes has subsided somewhat, you would think that this would be—they should have done it a long time ago, but you would think that this government would have learned from that crisis and the decades of chronic underfunding that has existed within the long-term-care sector and finally taken action.
Stakeholders are telling us very clearly that this bill falls short. It is essentially the same act as the current Long-Term Care Homes Act. There is some reference and some enthusiasm for increased enforcement, but it remains to be seen whether that will happen. And there are some guidelines, some aspirational standards, to move forward with increasing the number of hours of care that residents get from personal support workers and RNs and RPNs. But where is the funding to ensure that that’s actually going to happen?
When I go into this, I want to talk in more detail about what this could actually mean for the long-term-care homes in my riding.
But before I do that, I want to thank the stakeholders, the family members and the organizations that have been advocating for fundamental reform to our long-term-care sector and an adequate response to COVID-19 so that long-term-care-home residents and loved ones can survive. I want to thank the people who have led that fight, from SEIU to the Ontario Health Coalition, to ACE—the legal clinic that works with seniors to ensure they have rights—to ONA, to the OMA, to staff, personal support workers in long-term-care homes, to people who live in long-term-care homes, and to family councils and loved ones who have contacted our office and worked with our office over the last 18 months. Thank you.
I want to move to how this bill will affect the long-term-care homes in my riding. The first one I want to speak about is St. George. St. George Care Community is in my riding. It’s on St. George Street. It is a place similar to what my colleague the member for Davenport referenced—a home that caters to people who were formerly homeless, who have suffered from addiction, who often don’t have family members caring for them anymore. These people are really struggling. They’re typically a younger kind of person than you’d expect to see in a long-term-care home. Some of these folks are in their thirties, forties and fifties.
I visited St. George before the pandemic. It’s a very sparse place. The staff are poorly paid. I’ve spoken to a few of them. I’ve worked with them. The staff are also overworked. There’s little entertainment. I would describe the facilities as aging, boring, sparse and grim.
These concerns were also raised by Carol Anne O’Brien. She is a constituent of mine who volunteered at St. George for six years, and she had similar things to say about the conditions within St. George.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things got a lot worse. St. George had one of the largest outbreaks in Ontario for a time, when 91 residents and 46 staff had COVID-19. We organized media events, protests and interviews with workers. We spoke to regulators calling for improvements. It was a very hard time.
It’s important to note that St. George is run by Sienna. Sienna is a for-profit long-term-care-home company that is traded on the Canadian stock exchange. Sienna is a company that chose to give its shareholders $43.6 million instead of reinvesting that money into staff and residents during the worst periods of the pandemic, when there was one PSW per floor per night looking after residents. I actually spoke to that personal support worker after she got COVID-19 and was bedridden for weeks. She had a hard story to tell. She was very unhappy.
What is so disturbing—this government loves to talk about saving money—is that Sienna is the very same company that received over $50 million from the Ontario government to help them with their pandemic response.
So just to clarify here, the Ontario government gave Sienna $50 million, and then, in the exact same period, Sienna pumped out $43.6 million—most of that money—to give to shareholders. When I go on the Sienna website—I regularly check how they’re doing—they’re still giving out dividends to their shareholders, to this very day, and the conditions within St. George have really not improved.
The reason why I bring up that story is because this is a trend. This is what this government has done with the long-term-care-home sector, and we have the three very largest corporations operating in Ontario paying out $171 million in dividends during just the last nine months. These are the very same companies that raked in $138 million in pandemic funding during that very same time. These are the very same companies that are getting 30-year for-profit long-term-care-home contracts from this very same government. These are the very same long-term-care-home operators that are not being properly enforced or fined, or having their licences revoked by this very same government, which is a tragedy, and it is a tragedy that I believe has got to change.
I also want to speak about this inspection piece a little bit, and I’m going to use the example of St. George again. The reason why I do that is because this government is talking about how they’re going to increase enforcement and everything is going to look rosy again. I remember going through the St. George incident reports to look at what has actually gone wrong in St. George, and I’ll tell you, it was pretty disturbing. There have been reports of failure to provide personal care; specifically, showers. Residents weren’t being showered for a week or more. There were concerns about a failure to respect personal care, oral care, skin, wound care. What that means is that people are losing teeth. They are getting sores on their bodies, because they’re not being frequently moved. We are also hearing that in February 2020—this is the one instance where there was a critical incident report, and this is what happened. I believe it was at lunchtime, when a resident, due to understaffing, choked on their food and died. They died.
That is what is happening in a for-profit home in my riding right now, by a company that is continuing to give a record amount of profits to shareholders and continuing to underpay workers who work in my riding, who work to serve people.
This is the very same model of long-term care that this government is looking at perpetuating under Bill 37, Providing More Care, Protecting Seniors, and Building More Beds Act, and I think that is a shame.
We are committed to moving forward with a different kind of long-term care, and the reason we want to do that is because long-term care is health care. It should be delivered by competent, experienced people who earn a decent wage, a living wage. It should be non-profit, and it should be public. It should be culturally appropriate when it’s needed. There should be a proper inspection process and enforcement. There should be a seniors’ advocate. And we should be building more beds so that people who need a long-term-care-home place can find it—or if people want to stay at home and have care provided in their home, they can get that too. I believe it’s our responsibility as legislators to make that happen.