By Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's Minister of Long-Term Care
This has been a year of unprecedented challenges that have revealed the tremendous shortcomings within the long-term care system — fault lines that had been growing over decades of neglect and under-funding.
When we created the stand-alone Ministry of Long-Term Care in 2019, we could not have anticipated the impact COVID-19 would have on the world. It has required us to put aside conventional thinking and embrace new and innovative ideas in order to fight against this once in a century pandemic.
But let’s be clear that from the outset of the pandemic, our government has taken decisive action. Since day one, we have been working closely alongside our partners in the health and long-term care sectors to protect our most vulnerable and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that homes have the necessary support to fight the virus.
Local public health units, local health integration networks, and local hospital partners are all involved when a home experiences an outbreak. The Ministry of Long-Term Care is in constant contact with long-term care homes regarding the rapidly changing situation and risk levels to residents in order to quickly ensure the home is supported with the necessary staffing, personal protective equipment, infection prevention and control, and cleaning crews.
When an outbreak is declared in a home, based on a single lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 (staff or resident), a series of supports are immediately mobilized with all partners involved to stabilize the home and return them to normal operations. These plans are in place for all long-term care homes before an outbreak occurs, and resources are deployed quickly. Clinical decisions about the best care and treatment for an individual resident are made by the medical and clinical teams involved with the home.
All long-term care homes must have an up-to-date outbreak management system for detecting, managing, and controlling infectious disease outbreaks. This includes a communication plan to keep families informed. Homes must also oversee their staffing to ensure they are providing the appropriate level of care.
We recognize how important it is to identify a case of the virus before it can spread from the community into a long-term care home. That’s why, to help prevent outbreaks, we have introduced enhanced, more frequent testing requirements for homes in areas with higher community cases.
While we continue our fight against the virus, we have launched a historic staffing plan to deliver on our commitment to provide an average of four hours of daily direct care for each resident. It will make Ontario the leader in Canada on the provision of care.
We know that to make long-term care a better place for residents to live, we must make it a better place for staff to work. That’s why, over the next four years, we are increasing investments in long-term care staffing annually, spending up to $1.9 billion in 2024-25 to support 27,000 new positions for nurses and personal support workers.
We are using new approaches to increase desperately needed long-term care capacity in communities across the province. The Accelerated Build Program will add 1,280 spaces in a matter of months, not years. And the modernized funding model is breaking down long-standing barriers to accelerate construction. To date, there are 22,368 new and upgraded long-term care spaces in the pipeline.
And while the light at the end of this tunnel is growing brighter as we begin to vaccinate frontline health care workers, and soon residents, in our long-term care homes, we know that there is still a long road ahead. We must all remain vigilant and continue protecting our most vulnerable as we fight this virus together.
Photo Credit: FRANK GUNN /THE CANADIAN PRESS
This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun on December 19, 2020. Link to original published article.