January 13, 2021
Re: The More Time Lost, The More Lives Lost
Dear Premier, Minister and Ret. General,
This public health emergency has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis with seniors in long term care accounting for 66% of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths.
As Toronto’s Seniors Advocate, I request that you consider the following immediate changes, which are supported by experts, to save lives and better support our long term care workers, seniors and those living with accessibility challenges in our province:
1) Stabilize the Workforce:
Like in the pandemic’s first wave, far too many of Ontario’s long term care homes continue to face dangerous staffing shortages.
This is a serious and significant contributing factor to the increase in recorded COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths that are ravaging the very places that should be safe, healthful and caring environments.
The majority of workers in both long term care homes and other congregate care settings such as retirement homes and group homes are part-time, rather than full-time staff. The key difference between the two includes the number of paid sick days. A full-time unionized worker will receive 10-14 days of paid sick leave every year, while a part-time worker will only receive 1-3 days. This is why many workers have had to make the difficult choice of reporting to work with potential COVID-19 symptoms or staying home and missing a day without pay.
Our province needs to invest in our workforce through offering more full-time employment opportunities, greater pay, heightened benefits and increased sick days. This would ultimately resolve the recruitment and retainment issues that were previously present in the sector, prior to the pandemic.
In addition, our province must extend the $3 temporary wage increase for workers in both long term care and congregate care settings passed the March 31st, 2021 expiration date.
The pay-out of this investment in our workforce will show through the enhanced quality of care that would be delivered daily to our most vulnerable.
2) Develop Effective & Timely Vaccination Roll-Out Plans:
Ontario must communicate a clear multi-lingual vaccination roll-out plan to all long term care homes and congregate care settings. Administering the vaccine around the clock to both residents and workers through a scheduling operation, will slow the spread of infection within homes.
Ontario must be held accountable to their January 21st, 2021 goal of inoculating all long term care home residents, staff and caregivers in hotspots such as Toronto, Peel, York and Windsor-Essex. Further efforts must be made to ensure that all other residents, staff and caregivers throughout Ontario are vaccinated by the end of January, as Dr. Yaffe indicated.
Daily reports of vaccine roll-out in homes and congregate care settings should be made public, in order to keep both Torontonians and Ontarians informed of the process.
Moreover, Ontario must effectively address vaccine hesitancy in workers in long term care homes and congregate care settings. Many racialized and Indigenous populations have historic mistrusts of vaccines and health programs. That is why Ontario must make every effort to work collaboratively with key partners that have built strong relationships with such communities. This will ensure that they are receiving clear information about the vaccine from a trusted source and are able to access it conveniently, such as within their workplace. For those workers that must visit vaccination clinics to receive the vaccine, Ontario should offer them paid time off and/or reimbursement for travel expenses.
3) Amend Section 2 of the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020
Late last year, Ontario enacted the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020, which states that any business, agency, non-profit or person that has made or makes an honest effort from March 17th, 2020 to follow public health guidelines, would not be held liable for harms related to the exposure of COVID-19 in civil proceedings. Ultimately, this Bill prevents families and loved ones from seeking any form of justice. The lack of accountability and responsibility outlined in this Bill demonstrates the apathy, instead of empathy our province
has for the thousands of lives lost, especially in our long term care homes. That is why, long term care homes and congregate care settings should be exempt from the Bill.
While a complete overhaul of the long term care system is needed and should include updating the care standards to emotion-based approaches to care, which is an initiative I led in the City’s 10 long term care homes, and moving away from the for-profit model of care, these immediate changes that are based on experts’ advice, will save lives and slow the spread of infection within our homes.
We owe it to our long term care homes staff and residents, along with their families and friends, to take the necessary steps to ensure that they’re provided the highest standards of safety and care. It is simply unacceptable for your government to do anything less than to implement these changes immediately in order to save lives.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Councillor Josh Matlow
Toronto – St. Paul’s
cc: Deputy Premier, Minister of Health, Hon. Christine Elliot