May 13, 2021 in News --> Long-Term Care
For the past year and a half, personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers have kept a close watch on the horror story playing out in Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) facilities. With the vast majority of residents now vaccinated, the worst appears to be behind us: more than 3,700 LTC residents died from COVID-19 during Ontario’s first two waves; fewer than 20 died in March and April 2021, amid the province’s largest-yet surge of infections.
Now, stakeholders must determine how to avoid future disasters of the same magnitude. Step one: determine what went wrong. In late April, reports from the CBC, Ontario’s Auditor General, and the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission shed light on the provincial government’s failure to protect its most vulnerable constituents.
Released on April 28, CBC Investigates’ report focused on the province’s lack of preparation for COVID-19, even as the virus’s brutal toll was becoming apparent in countries like China and Italy. The broadcaster requested ‘all reports, memos, and briefing notes concerning the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 and long-term care homes in February, March and April of 2020.’ It found that only a handful mentioned long-term care in February, despite global panic about the virus’s impact on the elderly. Further, it found that numerous measures to protect LTC residents were either not tabled or not put into practice by the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic on March 11.
“This government failed to exercise the precautionary principle to keep these residents safe,” said Vivian Stamatopolous, an advocate for long-term care residents and their families, to the CBC. “I don’t think there is any question of it at this point. The sector was completely left on its own and entirely unprotected.”
The Auditor General’s Report
Also on April 28, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her office’s report on the provincial long-term care sector’s response to the pandemic. It notes that “aggressive infection prevention, detection and patient care actions were needed – and needed quickly – to prevent staggering death rates,” and that those actions did not take place.
The report highlighted three primary issues:
The Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission Report
Released on April 30, Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission’s report found that years of neglect in the long-term care system prevented the province from formulating a plan to combat COVID-19.
“Many of the challenges that had festered in the long-term care sector for decades – chronic underfunding, severe staffing shortages, outdated infrastructure and poor oversight – contributed to deadly consequences for Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens during the pandemic,” the report reads.
The commission calls for sweeping changes to prevent future catastrophes and prepare for the coming surge of residents as Ontario’s population ages. In particular, the report called into question ‘long-term care homes that are owned by investors.’
“Care should be the sole focus of the entities responsible for long-term care homes,” it reads.
Assigning Blame for Ontario’s COVID-19 Catastrophe
Over the past several months, it has become clear to medical malpractice lawyers that some of Ontario’s long-term care operators failed to provide their residents with an appropriate standard of care. Numerous class action lawsuits have been initiated against these operators in hopes of providing compensation and closure to families that have lost relatives.
What the three reports listed above make clear, however, is that even those owners and operators that acted negligently received little, if any, support from the provincial government. The COVID-19 pandemic has been – and continues to be – an unprecedent public health disaster in Ontario; blame for that disaster cannot be placed on any single group.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario’s long-term care system, contact Neinstein Medical Malpractice Lawyers today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
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