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UPDATE: 'Protect our loved ones'

About 3,000 participants at a virtual rally about the long-term care crisis heard several activists share their pain and thoughts about the way their loved ones are and were treated at those homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rally was hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition on Wednesday. Attendees demanded improved standards of care in long term care facilities, as well as increased staffing, improved wages, and more accountability from for-profit homes. Many outlined the deplorable conditions their family members endured, the unrealistic demands on staff, and inadequate personal protective equipment at some of the homes across Ontario.

Ian McMahon of Windsor accused the province of downloading the vaccination rollout to public health units to insulate itself from public blow back for it being too slow. McMahon said his father died of COVID-19 at The Village of St. Clair in south Windsor five days after he tested positive for the virus. He claimed his dad's positive result came just two days before he was to get vaccinated. He said he is angry and called the people responsible for the provincial long-term care failure cowards for not standing up for the vulnerable.

"This disaster didn't need to happen," said McMahon. "Ford and Fullerton, Elliott and Williams owed my father the allegiance to the duty of care principle and they failed miserably. They allowed politics to override their duty of care and that's inexcusable."

McMahon also said that a plan for more personal support workers (PSWs) announced by the province recently is too little too late. Many at the rally said the PSWs are needed now, not in four to five years.

Co-chair of the Windsor-Essex Health Coalition Tracey Ramsey also called out the province for sitting on vaccines in December. She added she can't believe there have been no fines or response by the province for the hundreds of deaths and outbreaks caused by the virus at LTC homes in Ontario. Ramsey also accused Premier Doug Ford of abandoning Windsor-Essex.

"This is a failure by the Ford government and Windsor-Essex was abandoned by them. We heard nothing, it's been crickets," said Ramsey.

Greg Scratch said his mother is in a very small room at Extendicare in Windsor. He said she was almost vaccinated for COVID-19 twice, has bed sores, and doesn't want to complain because she fears retaliation.

"She's in a cage, it's pathetic. It scares me this kind of thing is going on," he said. "Everything falls on deaf ears and calls to the home have not been answered."

Retired Registered Nurse Judy Wolanski has her stepfather at Riverview Gardens in Chatham. She said long-term care has changed for the worse over the years and better care and communication is needed because patient needs have drastically changed.

Sharon Wells, a former LTC nurse in Oxford County, also spoke at the rally and said she was doing the work of three or four employees at her home. Wells recalled residents often wandering around in their soiled diapers and said PSWs won't stay unless working conditions improve at the homes.

Kristin Hunter of London said her father shares a room with three other patients at a home that was in outbreak. Hunter doesn't believe the province is serious about vaccinating LTC homes because it lacked policy.

Co-chair of the Chatham-Kent Health Coalition Shirley Roebuck wants permanent PSWs to be hired, not temporary or part time workers, citing the need for qualified people.

Lucinda Allaer, whose 88-year-old father resides at Fairfield Park Nursing Home in Wallaceburg, said he cries all of the time and begs to die because he has been isolated for 40 days and still hasn't been vaccinated.

"It's a dereliction of duty and frankly I find it outrageous," she said.

Doug Babbit has his mother-in-law at the Sydenham Retirement Residence in Wallaceburg. He realizes that staff are tired but said having outbreaks a year into the pandemic is ridiculous. His loved one's home has not had an outbreak.

Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition Natalie Mehra said unfortunately improved LTC care isn't coming until next year after the province promised improved standards of care this April. Mehra calls the delay "cruelly slow."

"There has been a river of grief that has run through this province," she said.

She is calling on the province to stop renewing the licences of for-profit LTC and retirement homes and start building public homes. She is also asking Ontarians to email their MPPs and the premier to pressure them to save our seniors.

There have been 63 COVID-19 deaths at The Village of St. Clair in Windsor and dozens more at Caressant Retirement Homes in southwestern Ontario.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care said governments of all stripes have talked about solutions but have failed to act. The Minister's Press secretary Krystle Caputo said between 2011 and 2018, only 611 net new beds were built, and outdated rooms in dire need of redevelopment significantly contributed to the severity and spread of COVID-19 in homes experiencing an outbreak. Caputo added the province has provided PSW wage enhancements that have enabled homes to hire over 8,600 frontline workers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the systemic issues facing long-term care after decades of neglect and underfunding by successive governments," said Caputo. "The work to modernize long-term care is underway with $1.75 billion invested to create modern and safe long-term care spaces, and immediate investments culminating in $1.9 billion annually to meet our nation-leading four hours, on average, of daily direct resident care."

Caputo added the Ontario government is fixing a broken system and making long-term care a better place for residents to live, and a better place for staff to work.

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