Coronavirus: Ontario government rejects long-term care commissioners’ appeal for more inquiry time

Click to play video: 'Critics call on Ontario government to reform long-term care'
Critics call on Ontario government to reform long-term care
WATCH ABOVE: As the COVID-19 crisis worsens in Ontario's long-term care homes, advocates and families are calling for more immediate action by the province to protect residents. As Morganne Campbell reports, they are also looking to other provinces for solutions. – Jan 3, 2021

TORONTO — The Ontario government says it won’t extend an inquiry into COVID-19‘s deadly spread in long-term care homes after those leading the probe appealed for more time.

Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton says the inquiry’s final report and recommendations are still expected by April 30.

The commissioners heading the inquiry had written to Fullerton last month asking for an extension until Dec. 31, 2021 to complete their work.

Their letter, dated Dec. 9, 2020, noted delays in receiving government information relevant to the inquiry and the large amounts of data being collected.

But Fullerton — in a letter dated Dec. 23 and posted on the inquiry’s website Monday — replied that there is still a great need for timely information to inform decisions as the pandemic continues.

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“The urgency of our situation has not changed,” she wrote. “The need for timely and focused advice is even more acute.”

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Fullerton said the commissioners should focus on areas that require immediate action and highlight issues that warrant further government examination in their report.

Both letters were posted to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission’s website on Monday as the province reported 219 long-term care homes with active outbreaks.

That represents 35 per cent of all care homes in Ontario, with 1,160 residents and 1,140 staff members currently infected with the virus, according to provincial data.

The province says 11,369 long-term care residents have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

The virus has killed 2,795 people living in long-term care homes, the province says, with 14 deaths reported on Sunday.

The commission flagged lack of provincial oversight and uneven management standards in an interim report on the grim situation last month.

The report pointed to a provincial decision in the fall of 2018 to end comprehensive inspections and a lack of enforcement when issues are found.

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It found that fines and prosecutions are rarely applied on home operators, leaving a lack of urgency to address violations.

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