For-Profit Long-Term Care Facilities are the Epicentre of Ontario’s Second Wave

The second wave of COVID-19 in Ontario appears to be subsiding. The province reported just 1,022 new infections on February 9, one of the lowest case counts since November. Deaths are also falling. If these trends continue, the provincial government must use the approaching period of calm to assess what went wrong in its long-term care system. As our nursing home negligence lawyers have made clear, many of the province’s long-term care operators failed not only to provide adequate care to residents during the first wave of the pandemic, but also failed to learn from their mistakes in advance of the second wave.

According to several reports, the pandemic has had it most profound effect in Ontario’s ‘for-profit’ long-term care facilities, particularly those owned and operated by large chains. Last month, a group of doctors and epidemiologists providing advice to the Ford government released a report stating that “the most important risk factors for the magnitude of an outbreak and the number of resulting resident deaths are older design, chain ownership and crowding.”

“Homes with for-profit status,” the report went on, “had outbreaks with nearly twice as many residents infected … and 78 per cent more resident deaths … compared with non-profit homes.”

More than half (58 per cent) of long-term care facilities in Ontario are privately owned and operated, including The Village of Erin Meadows, Orchard Villa Long Term Care, Lundy Manor Residence, and Tendercare Living Centre, all of which have experienced severe, deadly outbreaks and all of which have been named in class action lawsuits filed by Will Davidson LLP.

Why do more outbreaks occur at for-profit homes in Ontario, and why are those outbreaks more severe? Some experts, like Ontario Long-Term Care Association chief executive Donna Duncan, blame their infrastructure.

“The higher intensity of outbreaks in privately operated homes can be explained by the older age and design of these homes,” she told the Toronto Star. “Once COVID-19 enters a home, it is difficult to contain, especially in older long-term care homes with three- and four-person rooms and higher levels of crowdedness.”

Other experts, and some nursing home negligence lawyers, blame the premise at the centre of the for-profit care system. For-profit facilities tend to pay and train their employees less and employ fewer full-time staff. In other words, they are alleged to prioritize profits over patient care.

“The time has come to put the needs of seniors ahead of profit for big chain shareholders,” said provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath in a January statement. “Long-term care homes with underpaid temporary staff and residents crammed three and four to a room are leaving seniors vulnerable, and are resulting in more devastating illness and tragic death.”

A high-profile group of physicians and epidemiologists, Doctors for Justice in Long-Term Care, has called on the province to abolish for-profit homes.

“When you think about for-profit homes, they’re by design created to have one thing in mind and that’s profits for shareholders,” Dr. Naheed Dosani, a member of the group, told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “It’s not care of our seniors.”

In addition to calling for an end to for-profit long-term care, Dr. Dosani’s campaign wants the government to immediately hire more long-term care staff, to establish a minimum pay standard for front-line staff, to ensure that at least 70 per cent of staff at every facility are full-time workers, to allow facility access to family caregivers, and to work with hospitals to create viable partnerships with long-term care facilities. These demands have been echoed by Horwath’s NDP.

Other healthcare experts aren’t convinced that abolishing for-profit care will solve Ontario’s long-term care issues. Samir Sinha, a geriatrician at Sinai Health in Toronto, told CBC Radio that there are deeper issues at play, including chronic underfunding and understaffing, a lack of regular inspections, and very little standards enforcement.

“People have focused in on [for-profit care] and said, ‘Well, this is the problem,’” Sinha explained. “I want people to look deeper because if we don’t look deeper, we’re not going to solve the issues of the fact that, frankly, we … grossly underfund our system.”

Like Sinha, many nursing home negligence lawyers assign blame for the catastrophe playing out in Ontario’s long-term care homes to both the provincial government and facility owners.

“It’s very easy to take a look at this in the context of, ‘COVID hit, and we didn’t know it was coming and it’s terrible what has happened, but we couldn’t avoid what happened here,’” Will Davidson LLP Managing Partner Gary Will told the CBC in May. “We had all of the information about the breakdown of the system, and it needs to be fixed.”

From that perspective, moving to a public-only model is only part of the solution. Significant funding increases and better regulation are also needed if the glaring issues plaguing the system are to be addressed.

The weaknesses in Ontario’s long-term care system have been recognized for years, since long before Doug Ford took office. There is little reason to believe that care providers will be more prepared for the third and fourth wave of COVID-19 than they were four the second. With that in mind, our nursing home negligence lawyers are committed to helping affected residents and their families access compensation for the damages they have suffered. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

Image: Shutterstock

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