TORONTO — Long-term care homes that don’t provide personal protective equipment to their staff as they prepare to allow visitors inside those facilities will face consequences, Premier Doug Ford said Friday.
The warning came on the same day the province took over the management of another seniors home struggling to contain a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
Speaking at a news conference in Kitchener, Ont., Ford suggested the shortages observed in the first weeks of the pandemic no longer exist and there is no need to hoard personal protective equipment.
“I’ll tell you there’s no one in this province who should have one problem with PPE,” he said. “There’s my message to the 626 long-term care homes, … if you’re stockpiling, if you aren’t handing out the PPE, then we’re coming after you. Simple.”
The province said earlier this week that dropping COVID-19 case counts will allow it to loosen pandemic rules that have restricted visits to long-term care homes.
People visiting a resident outside a home will no longer need to prove they’ve been tested for COVID-19 within the previous two weeks.
Indoor visits, which are currently limited to essential workers and families of palliative patients, will be permitted as of July 22, with a two-person limit.
Ford stressed that workers in the province’s long-term care homes will need access to personal protective equipment and the government has multiple suppliers providing it now.
“PPE should not be an issue here in Ontario any longer,” he said. “We have it and there’s no reason to stockpile it.”
The secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said surgical masks are now widely available in long-term care homes, but superior N95s are not.
“The N95 still are almost impossible to get based on the feedback that we’ve been getting, they continue to remain under lock and key,” Candace Rennick said.
The union, which represents 35,000 long-term care workers, has called for the province to enforce directives which grant workers greater access to the N95s and to fine operators who fail to comply.
“Front-line workers need more than just words from the premier, they need actual accountability from service providers who need to be held to account,” she said.
The CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said she is doubtful that the province has the required stock of PPE, and homes may be tempted to stockpile ahead of a potential second wave of the virus.
“These homes had a very, very difficult experience for five months and they didn’t get the PPE they needed until it was too late,” Doris Grinspun said. “They’re likely concerned about the fall.”
Grinspun said she would like to hear assurances from the province’s medical officer of health and the government that Ontario has an adequate six-month supply of PPE that will be available to all workers.
“The day the province can issue that statement, I assure you no one will stockpile anymore,” she said.
The Ontario Long-term Care Home Association said in a statement Friday that it has no knowledge of PPE being kept from home staff.
The group, which represents a mix of private, not-for-profit, charitable, and municipal homes, said it is focused on protecting against a potential second wave of COVID-19.
“That’s why we’ve been urging the Ontario government to implement a Wave 2 action plan for long-term care that would secure the continued prioritization of personal protective equipment to keep residents and staff safe,” the group said.
Meanwhile, Ontario has taken over management of another long-term care home after it failed to bring a COVID-19 outbreak under control.
The government said Villa Colombo Homes for the Aged in Toronto’s North York area would be temporarily run by Humber River Hospital.
Twenty-seven people have died of the virus at the home, while another 16 residents and five staff have tested positive.
The government said the hospital had been working with staff at the home for weeks to contain the spread of the virus.
In early May, the government issued an emergency order allowing it to appoint temporary managers to long-term care homes that are unable to contain outbreaks.
Since then, the government has used the order to appoint hospitals as temporary management at 11 homes.
Ford said Friday that three other long-term care homes dealing with COVID-10 outbreaks are currently being closely monitored by the province.
“Obviously, things aren’t going the way that we expected them to go with certain long-term care homes,” he said. “So, we’re moving the hospitals in there to take over them.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press