Critical staffing shortages in Ontario’s long-term care homes should be urgently addressed as the second wave of the pandemic intensifies, an independent commission said in interim recommendations released Friday.

In a letter to the government, the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission said the province must spend more money, on a permanent basis, so the homes can hire more personal support workers and nurses.

“We have heard repeatedly and consistently about critical staffing shortages pre-COVID and the reasons for long-standing recruitment and retention challenges in long-term care homes,” the commissioners wrote. 

“The staffing challenges have been well documented with numerous reports on the subject. Covid-19 exposed these challenges in stark terms.”

The commissioners also said the government should immediately mandate and formalize relationships between the homes, hospitals and public health units, as well as strengthen their infection prevention and control protocols.

“We are sending this letter today because the second wave is upon us and, given the continuing urgency of the situation and high risks in long-term care homes, our Commission is making some early recommendations that focus on staffing, collaborative relationships, and infection prevention and control,” they wrote.

The commission also said the province should implement its own staffing plan that came out of an inquiry into a serial-killing nurse who preyed upon nursing-home residents.

The province released that staffing study in July in response to the inquiry about Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a long-term care nurse who used severe staffing shortages to her advantage. She killed eight residents over nine years with lethal injections of insulin, often while working alone on the night shift.

That study recommended a minimum of four hours of direct care per resident per day.

“Further ‘study’ of the study is not necessary,” the commissioners wrote. “What is required is the study’s timely implementation.”

The commission is investigating how the novel coronavirus spread in the long-term care system and will submit its final report on April 30, 2021.

The commission is led by the Superior Court’s associate chief justice Frank Marrocco, along with long-time public servant Angela Coke and Jack Kitts, a medical doctor and former president of the Ottawa Hospital.

The commissioners said families should have ongoing access to their loved ones in the homes, 

“Given the essential role of families and caregivers in supporting not just physical care needs but the psycho-social well-being of residents, we reinforce the calls from residents, families and caregivers to ensure that families and caregivers have ongoing, safe and managed access to long-term care residents,” they wrote.

Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, said in a statement that the government is doing whatever it can to help seniors and staff against the novel coronavirus.

“We are carefully reviewing each of these recommendations as we continue to work hard to solve the long-standing and systemic challenges facing the long-term care system,” she wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct 23, 2020.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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