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‘A humanitarian crisis’: Long-term care advocates push for change following Roberta Place outbreak

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Following a deadly COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged a Barrie, Ont., nursing home, advocates are pushing for change in Ontario’s long-term care sector.

At a town hall and virtual protest on Thursday, advocates spoke about what could be done to address the gaps in Ontario’s long-term care system, which one described as a “humanitarian crisis.”

Read more: Inspector finds residents with COVID-19 weren’t cohorted, isolated at Barrie, Ont. nursing home

“This is a non-partisan issue,” Maureen McDermott, founder of the organization Voices for Long-Term Care, said. “We’re fed up. Enough is enough. We have to get this government to take responsibility.”

Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., has been the site of a devastating COVID-19 outbreak that’s killed 49 people and infected nearly all residents as of Wednesday afternoon.

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On Saturday, health officials confirmed the U.K. coronavirus variant played a role in the rapid spread of infection at the facility. Officials have said it’s unclear exactly how the variant made its way into the home but noted a staff member came into contact with someone who travelled internationally and tested positive for COVID-19.

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There should be a task force implemented right away to aid and to help everybody quarantine properly and test properly,” said Jeremy Taggart, whose mother is a resident at Roberta Place.

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“I’d like to have confidence in our system, to be honest … This was a complete failure from Day 1.”

At Thursday’s town hall, Vivian Stamatopoulos, an Ontario Tech University professor, said many long-term care facilities don’t want to reach out to government for help because they don’t want the spotlight to be on them.

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“You cannot rely on these individuals to proactively seek help, even though we get reports from the ground floor that they need help,” she said. “Reporting staffing levels in real time at each home and publicly releasing that data is something that we call for.”

Stamatopoulos said mandatory staff reporting is critical when it comes to identifying the emergence of shortages and allows stakeholders to proactively send in help.

“That help should have been long already organized with the neighboring communities, neighboring hospitals — but not just hospitals because they’re overrun right now,” she added. “We need Red Cross teams to be deployed at the start of the outbreak in addition to the medical military teams.”

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On Jan. 12 and 13, Ontario ministry of long-term care inspectors attended Roberta Place and found residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and staff weren’t cohorted.

At a press conference Saturday, Dr. Charles Gardner, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, said a lack of staff cohorting was due to how quickly COVID-19 spread in the home and because of how many employees became sick, which made maintaining adequate staffing difficult.

Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician, said the first step to solving the long-term care crisis in Ontario is to address staffing.

Read more: How COVID-19 has changed the way families think about long-term care in Ontario

“This comes down to an accountability issue,” Arya said. “We would never, ever allow this to happen in a childcare centre.”

Arya said there’s “gross incompetence” when it comes to long-term care in Ontario.

It is completely unacceptable that this would be happening at this point during the second wave,” he added.

“To be honest, it was unacceptable at any point during the pandemic, given that these homes are actually supposed to be accountable for infection prevention and control.”

The COVID-19 outbreak at Roberta Place was declared on Jan. 8.

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