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Crosses laid out on a lawn near the Camilla Care Community, a long-term care home in Mississauga, on May 13, 2020.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

“JTFC Observations in Long Term Care Facilities in Ontario” is the blandly bureaucratic title of the terse 21-page report prepared by the “augmented civilian care teams,” the soldiers helping at long-term care facilities since April 28.

“We identified a number of medical and professional issues present,” Brigadier-General C.J.J. Mialkowski wrote with Churchillian understatement.

Some of those “observations” (read: sickening litany of abuse) in no particular order:

  • Residents who have not been bathed in weeks;
  • Patients left in soiled continence pads and beds;
  • Little or no turning of patients, leading to pressure ulcers (bed sores);
  • Reusing of nonsterile supplies such as catheters, syringes and intravenous lines;
  • Lack of pain treatment, including a patient with a fractured hip and inadequate palliation;
  • Aggressive behaviour, including forceful feeding causing audible choking/aspiration;
  • Residents going hungry to the point where soldiers felt it necessary to share their personal food.
  • Insect infestation, including ants and cockroaches.

In short, abuse and neglect on a grand scale.

Infestations, sedation and neglect: Military report details ‘horrific’ living conditions in seniors’ homes

An in-depth look at five long-term care facilities observed by Canadian Armed Forces

Inspection reports reveal critical gaps inside Quebec nursing homes ravaged by COVID-19

Yet, it’s only two weeks’ worth in five long-term care facilities that knew they were under the watchful eye of the military. One shudders to think what happens when the frail, demented residents don’t have soldiers looking out for them.

There have already been thousands of deaths in long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. It seems living in these homes can, at times, be as bad as dying in them. (The military report on Quebec homes will be released later this week and you can bet it will be equally sickening.)

“Gut-wrenching … appalling … disgusting,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

Reflecting on the fact that his own mother-in-law is in a long-term care, Mr. Ford said: “Go save your Mom or your Dad is your instinct.”

However, almost all the 80,000 people in long-term care in Ontario need more care than their families can safely provide.

Ultimately, only one person can save them: the Premier himself.

We don’t need politicians to be shocked and appalled any more.

We don’t need their crocodile tears.

We don’t need their fist-shaking vows and never-fulfilled promises to “fix this once and for all.”

We don’t need any more inquiries or royal commissions or earnest 1,200-page reports that gather dust on the shelf.

Enough of the empty words. Enough of the chronic dithering.

Residents wallowing in their own urine and feces, hungry, dehydrated, overmedicated, in pain, frightened, alone and ignored. Is that really the best we can do for our elders?

Fix it. Now.

If Mr. Ford is serious about his vow to “move heaven and earth” and “spare no expense” to do so, he doesn’t need several months to form a committee, create terms of reference and hold an inquiry.

Been there. Done that, too many times to count.

The problems are well known, and so are the solutions.

Appoint a non-partisan committee – personal support workers, nurses, patients’ family members – and give them a deadline and a mission: “How can we ensure that every one of our elders gets the care they need, where they need it and when they need it?”

The problems are well-known, and so are the solutions.

Health care is a people business. We need an adequate work force, properly trained and fairly remunerated. That’s priority No. 1.

We have warehoused too many people. We need a better balance of institutional and home care, and support for family caregivers.

We need standards, a clear articulation of what people in care can expect. It has to be a lot more than one bath every blue moon, meals of rehydrated mashed potatoes and meat of unknown provenance, or a few hours weekly of home care.

We need oversight. Care providers undergo a multitude of inspections but they are not done in a coherent, systemic fashion. A complaints-based approach isn’t sufficient.

We also need to ensure care is affordable and accessible. Waiting lists in the tens of thousands don’t cut it.

Again, all the solutions are known. A few smart, empowered people could, in short order, come up with a plan, and a timetable to implement it.

But there has to be an upfront commitment to act. Not study further. Not cherry-pick the easy stuff.

If Mr. Ford is bold and decisive, ensuring dignified care for our elders could be his legacy.

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