MPP accuses province of neglect as long-term care home grapples with deadly COVID-19 outbreak

A Scarborough NDP MPP accused the Ontario government of neglect on Sunday, saying the deaths of more than 60 residents at a long-term care home amid a COVID-19 outbreak could have been prevented.

Doly Begum hosted a town hall meeting on Sunday evening to highlight the situation at Tendercare Living Centre, a Scarborough long-term care home in the grips of a deadly coronavirus outbreak. Begum represents Scarborough Southwest.

As of Sunday, Tendercare Living Centre has lost 62 residents to COVID-19, according to North York General Hospital, which has taken over the home’s management for at least the next three months.

“We could have prevented all of this,” Begum said. 

“The highlight from this second wave, the crisis we’re facing in this second wave, is that we could have prevented all of this,” she added.

“Early in July, we heard reports from many of the other homes where they found that 19 per cent of the spread could have been prevented in Scarborough just by moving from four people in one room to two people in one room. Just a simple measure as isolating the individuals differently could have done a better job of saving so many lives.”

Tendercare Living Centre, in Scarborough, Ont., is pictured on Dec. 23, 2020. The long term care home is experiencing a major staff and resident outbreak of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

One man told the meeting that he did not learn that his mother, a Tendercare resident, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus until a week after the diagnosis, and only after another family member called the home.

Meanwhile, a granddaughter shared that she got no updates on her grandmother’s condition even after she tested positive for COVID-19. She said her grandmother died on Christmas Day.

Begum told the town hall that the response from Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s long term care minister, has been “extremely disappointing.”

“Just hearing — ‘We care about the families and we will make sure that we’re doing everything within our power to prevent any deaths from happening’ — it makes me so, so furious because the minister does have the power to act right now,” Begum said.

Vivian Stamatopoulos, a social sciences associate professor at Ontario Tech University, says a major failure of the province has been passing the responsibility of homes to the local public health units. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos, a professor at Ontario Tech University, told the meeting that Ontario is at a very pivotal time in the second wave of the pandemic with outbreaks “at an all time high.” 

“We have almost 2,800 seniors who have lost their lives in long-term care facilities,” Stamatopoulos said.  

“In the past week, the seven-day average of deaths has doubled … and I feel it’s just going to get worse unless we have some immediate and swift action by our government, particularly Minister Fullerton, our long-term care minister.”

On Sunday, Fullerton said in a tweet that out of 626 long-term care homes in Ontario, there are 130 homes considered to be in outbreak with no resident cases. There are 77 homes with resident cases, of which 39 have fewer than five cases each. 

According to Fullerton, the total number of long-term care homes considered to be in outbreak is 207.

Stamatopoulos said a major failure of the province has been passing the responsibility of homes to the local public health units. 

“While they may have been able to step in and provide that single-handed saviour role, so to speak, in the first wave, they can’t do that now,” she said. 

“They are overburdened, the hospitals are overburdened and we need to make sure that our government is actually instituting a provincial standardized and proactive crisis response to not only Tendercare, but the many other homes that are experiencing these very devastating, exploding outbreaks where dozens of staff are often home sick,” she added.

“We cannot keep relying on a reactionary response after the fact. We need to get into these homes at a critical time, at the start of their outbreaks and help to prevent these mass casualty events.”

Slow vaccine rollout ‘boggles me,’ doctor says

Meanwhile, Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the Sinai Health System and University Health Network in Toronto, said the province has been far too slow with its vaccine rollout.

“We have enough vaccines. We know where all the people are across our 1,396 homes. What’s concerning to me is that we’re now two weeks into having vaccines and we only actually used just north of 30,000 doses,” Sinha told CBC News.

“What concerns me the most is that, when you think about the people who are dying of COVID in Ontario and across Canada, 95 per cent of the people who died are people over 60 [and] 70 per cent of the people who died are living in long-term care and retirement homes, so we know who is actually at risk.”

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the Sinai Health System and University Health Network in Toronto, said the province has been far too slow with its vaccine rollout. (CBC)

According to Sinha when countries like Israel can manage within eight days to vaccinate more than 40 per cent of its population’s residents over 60, there is no reason why Ontario can’t use its logistical prowess to get its 127,500 long-term care and retirement home residents vaccinated.

“We’ve been preparing for weeks for this and why we’re seeing such a slow rollout it boggles me. Right now, they’re saying they’re hoping to vaccinate everybody in these high-risk settings, where 70 per cent of our deaths have occurred so far and a lot of hospitalizations have been generated from, they’re hoping to do this by the end of April,” he said

“But the key is, we know right now that we should be able to vaccinate 127,500 people … well, before the end of January so I’m not sure why that’s not our clear focus and why it’s not where we’re putting all of our energies when we’re really anticipating that over the coming months we’re going to see a record number of hospitalizations and ICU visits.”

Sinha noted that such visits are “generally led by older people and especially people in long-term care homes that are not doing terribly well as the moment.”

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