There was shock and anger in Ontario Tuesday after a Canadian military report threw a spotlight on deplorable conditions at five long-term care homes in the province during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grim findings came after Canadian military personnel were sent to seniors' homes in Ontario last month to help deal with the coronavirus outbreaks. The homes the report focuses on are all in the greater Toronto area.
During the pandemic long-term care homes have become epicenters for outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19. Many of the homes, already understaffed and under equipped for months, were struggling.
That is when Premier Doug Ford asked for the military’s help. The report on the conditions soldiers found at five of the homes were given to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend.
“It is deeply disturbing," said Trudeau. "There are things in there that are extremely troubling.”
Trudeau did not outline the report. He left that to Ford, who - visibly shaken - said his government knew long-term care homes were having serious problems and needed help.
“We didn’t know the full extent of what these homes, what these residents were dealing with," Ford said. "The reports they provided us were heartbreaking, they were horrific. It’s shocking that this can happen here in Canada, it’s gut-wrenching. And reading those reports was the hardest thing I’ve done as premier.”
The military report, based on two weeks of observations, outlined staffing shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment; bug infestations, including ants, cockroaches and flies; old food trays stacked inside people’s rooms and patients crying for help with staff not responding for up to two hours.
Allegations also included staff using the same masks, gowns and gloves as they treated multiple patients. In at least one facility, patients who were COVID-19-positive were allowed to wander through the home.
"What I am feeling, what we all are feeling is little in comparison to the hardship that these residents and their families have had to endure,” said Ford.
Cathy Parkes’ father died of COVID-19 earlier this year. He was a resident in one of the homes named in the report. Parkes said she is thankful for the military report.
“We’re going to see a lot of information that is confirming what we, the families, have been saying all along," Parks said. "There was neglect, and I think that is what this report is going to show and it’s important now that we have confirmation of that."
Advocates for seniors have claimed for years that there were problems in long-term care homes in Ontario and across Canada. Laura Tamblyn Watts is with Can Age, a non-profit seniors advocacy group.
“We have been cutting back in the area of seniors' care and elder abuse response and public health and vaccines," Tamblyn said. "What do you think is going to happen? And how much more is it going to take before we reinvest in the things that we need.”
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, blames the government of Ontario.
“It’s been unacceptable for weeks now and there have been a multitude of voices, ours included, calling on the minister, the premier, public health Ontario to take concrete measures to intervene and it hasn’t happened," Mehra said.
Ford has said before that the system is broken. Referring to the military report, he said his government is launching a full investigation and, if necessary, there will be criminal charges. He has also not ruled out a public inquiry.