By Mike Anderson

With Southlake’s 90-day takeover of River Glen Haven expiring on August 24, the Ministry of Long-Term Care stepped-in at the last minute and extended it by another 30 days.

“All parties have agreed that more time is needed, so the licensee and hospital are entering into a voluntary management contract that will extend Southlake Regional Health Centre’s temporary management of River Glen Haven by 30 days,” said Gillian Sloggett, a spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton in an email to The Post.

“The voluntary management contract provides additional time in order to ensure a safe transition of River Glen Haven back to management by the licensee. As always, the safety and well being of residents and staff remains our shared priority, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care will continue our close monitoring of conditions at the home.”

The 30-day extension comes after the Ford government, in part responding to calls from the official Opposition, indicated on August 21 that it was prepared to extend the takeover of some homes as their contracts were set to expire.

While family members welcomed the extension, some, like Maureen McDermott, said it doesn’t go far enough.

She would like Southlake’s takeover to continue until a public inquiry can be held.

“It’s a bit of a band-aid solution. But I feel that we have some time to breathe and get a full public inquiry going with full transparency and accountability. And that should happen before there’s even a discussion about ATK Care getting its license back,” she said.

Gayle Seddon, Southlake’s Executive Lead for River Glen Haven, also issued a joint statement with ATK Care’s Chief Operation Officer Jordan Kannampuzha on August 24.

Ms. Seddon said that Southlake, which has been managing the day-to-day operations of the home, would be transitioning these responsibilities back to ATK Care and “looks forward to continuing our work with staff, physicians and ATK Care to improve the quality of care for residents and prepare the home for a potential second wave of COVID-19”.

However, according to a source, those working relationships have become strained.

There has been friction between Dr. Craig Donaldson, River Glen’s Chief Medical Officer, and Mr. Kannampuzha, the home’s owner, during transition meetings, mainly over the cost of the critical care plan submitted by Southlake and Dr. Donaldson to ATK Care.

Dr. Donaldson has since resigned his position in protest but will continue to work at the home during the transition period.

Maureen McDermott leads demonstration outside River Glen Haven on August 14

The 30-day extension also follows sustained pressure by family members, some of whom took to Sutton’s streets on August 14.

They rallied in front of River Glen Haven, holding up signs and receiving honks of support from passing motorists.

Most demanded the province extend Southlake’s takeover of River Glen Haven, one of only three LTC homes to be subjected to a mandatory management order during the pandemic.

The other eight homes taken over were under voluntary management orders, having asked the province for help.

But the RGH management team, unable to contain the COVID-19 outbreak that claimed the lives of 37 residents, was forced to step aside — an important distinction for the demonstrators.

Alexandria Batten, who’s grandmother is a resident of RGH, doesn’t want to see ATK Care back in charge.

“I don’t want ATK Care to get their license back. I don’t think they’re ready. I think they need more planning and adequate staffing on the floors.”

Despite improvements made under Southlake’s management, she said there are still issues at the nursing home that need addressing.

On a recent visit to see her grandmother, she saw PPE not being correctly used, and empty sanitization stations.

She also said her grandmother, who’s blind and has dementia, isn’t getting the extra liquids she needs to avoid dehydration.

“They just leave them in a clear cup on her desk. She’s blind and can’t see that. She also has dementia, so she doesn’t know what it’s for,” she said.

The demonstrators were joined by two Ontario NDP MPPs, Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky and Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates, outspoken critics of the Ford government’s handling of LTC homes during the pandemic.

Both were adamant that ATK Care should not be allowed back into River Glen Haven.

“It shouldn’t happen because the private owner of this facility, and the government, have not addressed systemic issues, like staffing levels,” said Ms. Gretzky, who is also the Ontario NDP critic for community and social services.

“The situation here is still very precarious. And to bring that private owner back in and hand the keys over when those systemic issues haven’t been addressed, I think is putting the residents at great risk. Thirty-seven people died here because profits were being put before care.”

Mr. Gates also believes chronic staffing shortages, like those experienced at River Glen Haven, contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in privately-run LTC homes and wants the province to take them over.

“The company that owned this home caused the problem in this community. Thirty-seven people lost their lives unnecessarily,” he said.

“In private-run homes, there are shareholders and CEOs; only 49 cents of every dollar goes into the care of residents. In a publicly funded long-term care facility, it’s 79 cents. The reality is that the profit that is being driven into the shareholder’s and the CEO’s hands should be going back into care.”

While Ms. McDermott concedes that not all private owners are at fault, she would like those who fail to invest in care stripped of their licenses.

“They’re not all horrible. We know that some have put the money into care and weren’t affected by COVID. It’s these profits over care owners that need to be stopped. They need to be exposed for who they are.”

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