Ontario Bar Association urges protection of long-term care home residents amid COVID-19 crisis

Ontario should accelerate completion of rebuild program and install automatic fire sprinklers

Ontario Bar Association urges protection of long-term care home residents amid COVID-19 crisis

The Ontario Bar Association has called upon the Ontario government to take immediate action to protect older adults living in long-term care facilities who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter prepared by the COVID-19 working group of the OBA’s elder law section urged Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton and Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho to implement certain measures to ensure the safety of these seniors, as well as to protect their human rights and access to basic needs.

First, the provincial government should ensure the compliance of long-term care home licensees with the Residents’ Bill of Rights under the Long-Term Care Homes Act. This Bill safeguards the rights of residents to live in a safe and clean environment, to not be neglected by licensees or staff and to be properly sheltered, fed, clothed, groomed and cared for, among others. Improving the training for personal support workers can help in reducing staff shortages and absenteeism so that residents’ rights may be better respected, said the letter.

Second, the government should conduct unannounced annual resident quality inspections as required by the Long-Term Care Homes Act. Back in 2018, the government opted to focus on “risk-based” complaints-triggered inspections in lieu of unannounced annual inspections, but the letter argued that the implementation of this alternative was not enough to ensure compliance with long-term care home standards.

Third, the government should protect residents’ rights to give informed consent to — or to refuse — treatment and personal assistance services as provided under the Health Care Consent Act. To do this, the government should address the issues of staff shortages and insufficient personal protective equipment and should furnish health care providers and personal support workers with the necessary knowledge, resources and time to properly engage with residents, stated the letter.

Fourth, the government should try to speed up compliance with the long-term care home rebuild program, which is, according to the letter, behind schedule for its target completion date of 2025.

“Currently, approximately one-third of all long-term care beds in Ontario remain at the 1972 standard,” wrote Natalia Angelini, chairperson of the OBA’s elder law section. “These beds accounted for 57 [per cent] of the province’s 1,691 reported COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes (as of early June), evidencing the pressing need to upgrade long-term care in Ontario now.”

Fifth, the government should see to the installment of enough life safety measures, such as automatic fire sprinklers, in long-term care homes. The letter recommended the revocation of the exemption of long-term care homes from the requirement to install sprinklers under the Ontario Fire Code, which is in effect until Jan. 1, 2025.

“The number of deaths in [long-term care] facilities since the pandemic began in March 2020 is grossly disproportionate to that in the general population and truly staggering, given the vulnerability of those older adults,” said Angelini. The public health crisis has called attention to the importance of personal support workers, as well as of family members’ unpaid support, in ensuring the effective operations of these facilities, stated the letter.

However, the letter stressed the need for not just a quick fix but also for lasting changes in the long-term care system in Ontario.

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