May 4, 2021
Hon. Merrilee Fullerton
Ministry of Long-Term Care
400 University Ave.
Toronto, ON M7A 1T7
Dear Minister Fullerton,
I am writing you today to urge you to immediately pass my bill 203, the More Than a Visitor Act and reunite families in congregate care once and for all. The Long-Term Care Commission report that was released last week was a scathing reminder of how much your government and the previous Liberal and Conservative governments before you have neglected care homes for decades. Nearly four thousand residents died on your watch. Many passed without ever saying goodbye to their essential caregivers, their loved ones.
Bill 203, the More Than a Visitor Act, would ensure that no one in congregate care settings would ever be separated from their essential caregivers, their family, either during this current pandemic or any other emergency our province faces again and that support can be done safely. Essential caregivers are more than just visitors, they are most often family members who provide essential care that is pertinent to one’s emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. Your government, and any government that comes into power in the future, must consult with residents, essential caregivers, family members, congregate care staff and experts to ensure that every voice is heard and reflected in government policy. As you know the bill passed second reading with unanimous support from all members of the House and has been stalled at the Standing Committee on Social Policy since September 2020 awaiting your government to prioritize it and call it before the committee. Since that time, residents in congregate care have been forced into isolation, many not having meaningful consistent access to their essential caregivers, some not having any access to their essential caregiver or having the opportunity to feel fresh air or sunshine for over a year.
The LTC Commission report detailed the massive failure of your government to protect the overall well-being of residents in long-term care. In March of 2020, you and Premier Ford completely ignored the mounting evidence that this new virus was going to sweep through our care homes and cause devastation in its wake. The severe neglect of your government and the previous Liberal and Conservative governments for decades was apparent. People were dying not only from COVID-19 but from starvation, dehydration, and neglect. The Commission wrote “Visitors – particularly family members and loved ones – do more than visit, often taking care of many of the daily living needs of the residents. As a result of staff shortages, and with no family members to help, residents were confined to their rooms for extended periods without access to recreation programs or visitors.” In addition, the Commission found that “many residents experienced symptoms of what is known as confinement syndrome.” Yet you and your government denied access to residents and continue to force residents into isolation while many have been vaccinated. You continue to perpetuate the false narrative that essential caregivers can access their loved ones. To date, many homes across this province are still not allowing essential caregivers into the homes. Wilbert, a resident of long-term care was quoted to the Commission saying “I am just tired of seeing people crying and wishing that they would rather die from COVID than, you know, not see their families. That is wrong. It is wrong for any human being.” When will you take responsibility for your actions, admit to your failures, and reunite residents with their caregivers once and for all?
Staff were ill prepared to carry the burden of the pandemic on their shoulders and did so largely alone. They were left on our frontlines, completely ignored, while the pandemic raged through these homes. From the Commission, “Staff told the Commission about crying before, during and after work, vomiting in locker rooms from stress, and watching residents whom they loved die in great numbers.” These workers will never forget the lives lost on your watch. They will carry the burden of grief for their entire lives knowing that this could have been prevented if their government acted instead of trying to bury the mounting evidence under the rug. A staff member told the Commission this: “We had five PSWs for 58 residents. And this gentleman was dying. And we tried the best we could to get into that room and spend as much time as we could doing care […] but unfortunately he still died alone. We weren’t there when he died […] [O]nce a resident passes, you’re expected to pull yourself together and heaven forbid you should be emotionally attached to this person and move on to the next task at hand with just, you know, a snap. [...] You become the substitute families. They know our voices, they know our touch, and that’s important. And I believe it’s inhumane not to be able to spend any extra time with a dying person or somebody that’s lonely or has an issue.” Staff should have never been the only ones to carry the burden. Caregivers and family members should have been able to say their goodbyes and hold their loved one's hands as they passed. It is terrible to watch someone pass from COVID-19, it is inhumane to have them pass without their loved ones at their side to comfort them. As noted in the final LTC Commission report, it is also traumatic for the families, trauma that will have long lasting effects.
In March of 2021, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario released their important, precedent setting decision that the human rights of a child with a disability were violated by your government when they were denied meaningful access to their caregiver. The Tribunal outlined the violations that your visitor restrictions imposed on the child and their family. They found that the safety risk of contracting COVID-19 was not enough to deny access and that precautionary measures could have been taken to allow safe meaningful visitations.
As the LTC Commission stated, “residents do not lose their rights upon entering a long-term care home. They have the same rights as everyone else in society, and those rights must be protected and respected. Residents are entitled to receive quality of care and deserve to enjoy a quality of life.” It is time to take full responsibility for your inaction to protect the overall well-being of residents in congregate care, including their mental, emotional, and physical health. It is time for you and your government to stop violating the human rights of Ontarians, and immediately pass my bill 203, the More Than a Visitor Act. Reunite congregate care residents with their loved ones and ensure consistent, meaningful access. Allow residents to go outside to feel the sunshine on their faces and breathe fresh air, something many residents were denied before their deaths.
I hope you take these concerns into serious consideration and immediately act to reunite congregate care residents with their caregivers now.
Lisa Gretzky MPP
CC: Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario