Breaking Point in Long-Term Care in Ontario

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 2121 ... June 12, 2020

Breaking Point in Long-Term Care in Ontario:
Violence, the Pandemic, and Healthcare Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged Ontario’s long-term-care homes. The majority of the province’s pandemic deaths have occurred in these institutions, where conditions became so dire the province was forced to call on the Canadian Armed Forces for desperately needed help. Those soldiers, in turn, observed conditions so appalling that a report was transmitted back to National Defence headquarters in Ottawa -- a report so bleak that Premier Doug Ford has said reading it was the hardest moment of his time in office. The provincial government has pledged an independent commission to look into the LTC system; the provincial ombudsman has begun its own investigation. But Ontario’s LTC system has been extensively studied for years. The problems that made the pandemic so devastating had not been unknown. This week, will catalogue just a few of the reports, papers, and other warnings regarding the state of our LTC system that were issued before the pandemic -- and that we could have acted on. Today:... Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and one of the authors of the 2019 report Breaking Point: Violence Against Long-Term Care Staff.

Matt Gurney (MG): Before we get into the details of the pandemic’s toll on Ontario’s LTC system, I’d like to ask you specifically about the Breaking Point report -- why did you and your colleagues choose to look specifically at the issue of violence in our LTC homes?

Michael Hurley (MH): Well, it actually started with violence in the hospitals. We knew anecdotally of instances of members being brutally assaulted at work, and we interviewed them. What we heard convinced us to do some polling. Then we did a research study in conjunction with the University of Stirling, in Scotland, with focus groups in hospitals. But that led us to become interested in the problem of violence in other areas of the health-care sector, where the staffing is even thinner than it is in a hospital. Understaffing was identified in the original hospital study as being a contributor to the violence, for a few reasons. One, the cuts that have occurred over many decades -- cuts in real terms to staffing levels and to the number of available beds -- have created access problems and quality problems that materialize for family members and for patients in hospitals. People feel that they or their loved ones are not being seen in a timely way or that the care that they’re receiving is inadequate or inferior. They’re operating in an atmosphere of high emotion and anxiety. And so, often, they lash out in totally unacceptable ways.

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