CUPE Ontario and the Health Care Workers Coordinating Committee (HCWCC) have examined the Ontario Ombudsman’s report, Lessons for the Long Term. The report describes, in devastating detail, the failure of the Ford Conservatives to provide adequate oversight of long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the report shows, the province’s inspection system was already under stress and weakened by cuts – the result of successive Liberal and Conservative governments’ lack of funding, foresight and preparation.

“When COVID hit, inspectors were overwhelmed completely,” says Debra Maxfield, Chair of the CUPE Ontario Health Care Workers Coordinating Committee. “The government negligence that left them in such disarray was a catastrophe for Ontario: it cost thousands of seniors their lives, caused the deaths of more than a dozen workers, endangered dedicated long-term care (LTC) workers, and left thousands of families grieving the loss of loved ones, many who died in appalling conditions of neglect.”

Because of this gross negligence on the part of Ford Conservatives, LTC homes across the province are still struggling to retain and recruit workers, because of the dangers that are now associated with the LTC sector.

In the eyes of CUPE Ontario and the HCWCC, the Ombudsman missed a crucial opportunity to analyze the life-or-death difference that public versus private LTC made, for both residents and workers. As death tolls revealed even during the pandemic, when the inspection system failed, the number of deaths in private, for-profit homes soared compared to the number of deaths in publicly run homes.

Although the report found that the inspections were equally negligent across both private and public homes, staff and residents in public homes fared much better.

“We also question why the Ontario government was not more informed and prepared to deal with this infectious disease appropriately,” says Maxfield. “Fewer than 20 years earlier, SARS CoV-1 and the H1N1 flu swept through the LTC sector. But instead of implementing the lessons and learnings from those diseases, the government failed to put in place basic practices and procedures that would have saved lives.”

It should not be beyond the remit of the Ombudsman to ask, “Why?”

To HCWCC, CUPE Ontario, and the thousands of LTC workers we represent, the answer is obvious: because public LTC is primarily concerned with the safety and well being of the people who live and work in care homes, whereas private, for-profit LTC homes and their owners are primarily concerned with lining their pockets. During COVID, the result was that more seniors died early and without the care and dignity they deserved.

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé said, correctly, “To oversee a system, you have to have inspections.” However, CUPE Ontario and HCWCC would add: The tragic costs of COVID are proof that the long-term care system is no place for private profit. Thousands of seniors’ deaths from COVID are proof enough that private, for-profit long-term care can be deadly.