TORONTO — Inspectors refused to go into long-term care homes early in the COVID-19 pandemic because they feared for their safety, prompting the government to call in the military, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
Some of the inspectors were carrying out inspections by phone in April because they were afraid of contracting the novel coronavirus, said the premier, who has been facing fierce criticism about the province’s handling of the outbreak in seniors homes where nearly 1,400 residents have died.
“They aren’t medical professionals, so I understand,” Ford said. “But I’m not going to continue taking bullets for something — there was no control that we had when the unions refused to go in.”
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union did not immediately provide comment, but in a letter to the premier in April, union president Warren “Smokey” Thomas raised concerns about the poor quality of care for residents in some long-term care homes as well as the high risk for inspectors in those facilities.
Thomas wrote there were only 164 inspectors to support the province’s 626 homes, calling for increased staffing levels and a plan to protect their health.
In his letter, which the premier’s office made public Thursday, Thomas also outlined concerns he said inspectors had been hearing from front-line staff for some time.
“Residents are not receiving the care that they need in some of these homes,” he wrote. “We know that private long-term care home providers never had a plan for this level of illness within their facilities. And that’s the inherent issue with privatization.”
The development comes just days after a report from the Canadian Forces described horrific living conditions in some of the facilities, including insect infestations, poor hygiene and aggressive behaviour toward residents.
The province called in military assistance last month for five long-term care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks. In its report released this week, the military said members had observed residents crying for help for hours, along with bleeding infections and aggressive feeding by staff.
The government said Wednesday it was taking over management of four of the five homes and would conduct “extremely rigorous” inspections of those facilities as well as random spot checks at homes across the province.
On Thursday, Ford slammed the corporate leadership of some of the province’s for-profit homes, asking them to put people ahead of the bottom line or his government would hold them accountable.
“If they want to be greedy and make money, then get out of the business,” he said. “Go find something else to do. Don’t put people’s lives in jeopardy.”
34 more deaths reported Thursday
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 383 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and 34 more deaths. The new cases represented a jump after several consecutive days of fewer than 300 new cases.
That brought the provincial total to 26,866, an increase of 1.4 per cent over the previous day. The total includes 2,189 deaths and 20,673 resolved cases.
The number of tests reported also jumped to 17,615, from 15,133 the previous day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.