The CEO of Ontario’s professional nursing association says she no longer supports the Ford government’s independent commission into long-term care homes, saying it will lead to more political foot-dragging and inaction.
Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said the government should instead focus on increasing staffing and ensuring a six-month supply of personal protective equipment or PPE in homes, as the province prepares for a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
“Everything we need to know about this pandemic, what we did right and what we did wrong, we already know,” Ms. Grinspun, a health policy expert who has held the position since 1996, said in an interview.
“What we need now is sincere, fast and funded action.”
In addition to hiring more nurses and personal support workers, the RNAO, which represents 44,000 registered nurses, nurse practitioners and students, has for years been calling for each resident to receive four hours a day of personal and nursing care.
The organization says each home should have a nurse practitioner per 120 residents, as well as a nurse who specializes in infection control on site. Ms. Grinspun also said families should also be allowed back into homes to care for their loved ones even during outbreaks, which she said will prevent malnutrition, dehydration and loneliness.
“I’m not sure what we are going to discover in the commission. We are going to point fingers. But what seniors and what families need, and quite frankly what homes and staff need, is not pointing fingers. It’s acting on solutions now,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford said Friday that details of the commission, which is supposed to start this month, will be revealed in the next week or so. Some labour leaders and critics, including the NDP, have called for a full-scale public inquiry into the tragedy in nursing homes, where more than 1,800 residents have died.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care is also set to release a report on July 31 about staffing levels, which the government has said will inform a “comprehensive staffing strategy” to be implemented by the end of the year.
That staffing study, led by an expert panel, was among the recommendations made by Justice Eileen Gillese in her inquiry into serial killer Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a former nurse who killed eight nursing home patients. That inquiry took two years to complete and a final report was released last July.
Ms. Grinspun said Ontario has completed 35 reports in the past 21 years about long-term care, with little change to show for it.
“Nothing has been done, government after government after government,” she said.
While Ms. Grinspun said she initially supported the commission, she has since decided it is not necessary and is pushing instead for more funding in the Ontario budget, which is expected in November. While she said she would participate if the commission goes ahead, she said it must include a promise to increase funding.
“If it is only to build actions for an [election] platform, I have seen that movie before, with many governments,” she said.
Mr. Ford’s spokeswoman said the government is committed to following through on its promise to launch the independent, non-partisan commission. “We know we must act quickly and decisively, and that is why a commission is the best way to conduct a thorough and expedited review. Ontarians need and deserve answers, and that is exactly what they are going to get,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said.
Ms. Yelich added the government is providing same-day delivery of PPE to long-term care facilities, retirement homes and hospitals, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care has assigned a point person as well as an inspector to each of the province’s 626 long-term care homes.
Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, the union representing 68,000 workers, said she agrees the staffing model for nursing homes is “totally antiquated.” But she said a commission is still necessary to probe what happened during COVID-19.
“I think that is somewhat different, because staffing isn’t the only solution to what the tragedy of COVID has been in long-term care,” she said.
Miranda Ferrier, president of the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, said she supports the commission but not a public inquiry.
“I’m actually happy they are not doing an inquiry, because they take forever,” she said.
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