Recommendations for LTC homes outlined in reports reflect positions OMNI and sector have long held

For many years, OMNI Health Care and the Ontario long-term care sector at large have been asking the province to improve funding aimed at resources to better safeguard long-term-care home residents against outbreaks and improving their quality of life as a whole.

Recent reports from the Auditor General of Ontario and the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission evaluating the government’s pandemic readiness and response are now saying the same thing.

The COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020. Throughout the course of the year, 76 per cent of Ontario’s long-term care homes reported COVID-19 infection in residents and staff members.

Since the pandemic began, Ontario long-term care homes have been working tirelessly to keep the virus at bay and to control outbreaks when they occur.

Despite their efforts, more than 3,900 residents have died after contracting the virus.

Any viral outbreak in a congregated living environment is worrisome, but because long-term care residences are home to many people who are at an advanced age and have existing health conditions, outbreaks are especially dangerous.

The Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission recognized this in its 322-page report and is calling on the province to take action to better ensure the safety of the province’s long-term-care home residents.

One recommendation the report and the long-term care sector have underscored is the need for the redevelopment of older homes.

Long-term care providers – including OMNI – have long advocated for improved funding to upgrade and rebuild homes to eliminate three- and four-bed wards, a move which would reduce the risk of viral infection.

While governments have worked to rectify this, escalating land and construction costs have hindered progress. The pandemic has raised additional barriers, including the lack of availability of liability insurance coverage for new homes. Bold action on all fronts is required to break this log jam.

The reports also recommend the province focus on increasing staffing levels of front-line workers, something OMNI and the long-term care sector have also been saying for many years.

But in order to attract staff to the sector, the province must be prepared to increase funding to match increased qualification requirements with improved salaries, and to improve staffing levels to meet growing care needs of an aging population.

Infection prevention and control (IPAC) is another area of concern raised in the reports. The long-term care sector has asked the province for funding to support dedicated IPAC staff for every home in the province to ensure practices meet established standards.

The sector is also recommending the province allocate more funding to provide greater IPAC resources within Ontario Health and public health units and to ensure quality and consistency of oversight and practice, avoiding the confusion of conflicting directions experienced by homes through the pandemic.

OMNI had a stored pandemic supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) available from the beginning of the pandemic, and our 18 homes at all times have had access to PPE. However, maintaining supplies was a continuing challenge throughout, and it’s essential government focus on ensuring sufficient supply lines and stocks domestically for this and future outbreaks.

There are numerous other recommendations contained in these reports, and action has already taken place on some fronts.

Significant challenges remain to be addressed, but we are hopeful that these reports, and the public spotlight upon long-term care challenges, will lead to systemic change for the benefit of residents, staff and families.

We know the government is taking these reports seriously and look forward to working together to build a better long-term care system.