Independent commission launched to investigate, report on COVID-19 outbreaks at Ontario nursing homes

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Above, Premier Doug Ford, Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton and Health Minister Christine Elliott announce the launch of the Independent Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission

ONTARIO — The COVID-19 outbreak disaster at the long-term care homes in this province will be investigated by an independent commission, delivering its final report less than a year from now.

Residents of long-term care homes account for almost 65 percent of the pandemic death count in this province — or 1,793 of the 2,769 Ontarians who have lost their lives to the virus.

Launched today by the Ford government, the three-person Commission will be chaired by Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court.

Marrocco will investigate how COVID-19 spread within long-term care homes, how residents, staff, and families were impacted, and the adequacy of measures taken by the province and other parties to prevent, isolate and contain the virus. The panel’s resulting report, expected by April 2021, advise the province on how to better protect long-term care home residents and staff from future outbreaks. Previous public inquiries, such as the Public Inquiry into Long-Term Care Homes, took two years to complete.

“As premier, I made a commitment to our long-term care residents and their families that there would be accountability and justice in the broken system we inherited,” said Doug Ford. The newly announced probe delivers on that promise, according to the premier, “by moving forward with a transparent, independent review of our long-term care system. We will do whatever it takes to ensure every senior in the province has a safe and comfortable place to call home.”

Angela Coke, a former senior executive of the Ontario Public Service, and Dr. Jack Kitts, a retired President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, comprise the other members of the panel.

“The people of Ontario deserve a timely, transparent and non-partisan investigation,” said Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton. “That is why our government is launching this independent commission to help us identify ways to prevent the future spread of disease in Ontario’s long-term care homes. I look forward to receiving their report and recommendations to make Ontario’s long-term care homes a better place for our most vulnerable seniors to live and receive the care they deserve.”

Above, Minister Fullerton speaks in Winchester this past March. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

In the meantime, the government says it won’t wait for the Commission’s report to make various system improvements: It says it continues to: implement recommendations of the 2017 Public Inquiry into Long-Term Care Homes; act on essential learnings from COVID-19; and support the accelerated development of modern long-term care beds.

Nearly 78,000 Ontario residents currently live in 626 long-term care homes across the province. More than 38,000 people are on the waitlist to access a long-term care bed (as of March 2020).

Ontario has committed $1.75-billion to create new and redevelop existing long-term care beds. The province is also updating design standards to include air conditioning for any new and renovated homes, beginning immediately.

Among the homes slated for a total rebuild and expansion is Dundas Manor in Winchester, which has managed to avoid an outbreak during this pandemic.

Only one nursing home in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region, in Plantagenet, has recorded a fatal COVID-19 outbreak: Pinecrest Nursing Home accounts for all 11 deaths linked to the virus in the populations of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Prescott and Russell and the City of Cornwall.

The virus has penetrated about 20 percent of Ontario nursing homes to date. Some outbreaks were so bad, the province called in members of the Canadian Armed Forces to assist with care at several facilities. The final group of involved soldiers were released from that duty in early July.



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