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COMMENTARY: Is it time to end ‘for-profit’ long-term care in Ontario?

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Doctors call Ford government’s long-term care home approach ‘reactionary at best’' Coronavirus: Doctors call Ford government’s long-term care home approach ‘reactionary at best’
WATCH: 'Doctors for Justice in Long-Term Care' say more residents will continue to die of COVID-19 unless meaningful change is implemented by the Ford government – Jan 26, 2021

Frustrated yet undeterred by what they see as government inaction on the long-term care crisis in Ontario, a group of doctors with expertise in the field has formed “Doctors For Justice In Long-Term Care” to advocate as one voice for immediate action to deal with the life-and-death situation.

I’ve interviewed two of the co-founders of Doctors For Justice on my show in recent weeks:  Dr. Amit Arya and Dr. Vivian Stamatopoulos. Their passion is obvious, their frustration is palpable.

Read more: One-third of Ontario’s long-term care homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks

They’ve presented a number of recommendations to address the shortcomings in long-term care, many of which they say have been talked about but not acted upon.

It should be noted that Doctors For Justice readily admits that the problems in long-term care pre-date the Ford government and certainly the pandemic, but the reality is, as the sitting government, the ball is in the Ford government’s court to do something.

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One of the most contentious recommendations calls for an end to “for-profit” long-term care facilities in Ontario.

It’s not the first time the issue has been brought forward, but in the past, it was often dismissed as simply a ploy by unions to flex their muscle with the government.

As Dr. Stamatopoulos told me, while many of the issues existed before the pandemic, the coronavirus crisis has exasperated the problems immensely.

Read more: Ontario didn’t replenish PPE stockpiles before COVID-19, long-term care commission says

Dr. Arya was more blunt, saying there are more COVID-19 cases, more COVID-19-related deaths and more staffing problems in for-profit facilities, all of which contribute to the abhorrent conditions in too many of those privately run operations.

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For its part, the government points to a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that suggests that the frightening rise in COVID-19 cases in long-term care is due to community spread, rather than shortcomings in the operation of the facilities.

But that report admits that researchers spent very little time analyzing staffing at the facilities because there are too many variations for staffing levels, training or pay across the province.

It also suggests that the higher number of cases in for-profit facilities may be due to the fact that they tend to be old buildings that aren’t properly equipped or structured to handle the crisis.

Read more: Provinces sitting on millions in COVID-19 funds for long-term care homes: CCPA

Dr. Stamatopoulos was quick to respond.

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She says the inconsistent standard of care across the province is part of the problem and asks, why isn’t there a standard level of staffing and staff compensation across the province?

For-profit facilities tend to have fewer staff, less training and lower wages and that, according to Doctors For Justice, is the trifecta for poor patient care and possible tragic outcomes in this pandemic.

All of this begs an answer to an uncomfortable question — what is the priority of “for-profit” operations? Is it maintaining a healthy bottom line for their business or is it offering the best possible care for frail and elderly residents?

Read more: Get for-profits out of Ontario long-term care, unions say as they launch campaign

But, let’s not forget that government is culpable as well.

Public/private partnerships to deliver services can work but there must be strict guidelines and constant oversight of the operation to ensure that those guidelines are being followed.

That’s not happening in Ontario right now. Of the more than 600 long-term care facilities, only a handful have been inspected in the past two years of the Ford administration and that is shameful.

Read more: Potential conflict of interest involving Ontario nursing home inspectors a ‘big problem’: experts

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Residents are dying in cataclysmic proportions, staff are getting sick and staff are quitting.

This group of doctors has seen and experienced enough.

So who stands with these doctors to demand the best for our seniors?

Certainly not many of the for-profit owners, but, more tragically, not our government, whichshould always be putting people ahead of profit.

Bill Kelly is the host of the Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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