Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I think this is a very important motion, and I hope the other members of the committee will support it.
As many of you know, my riding of Brampton South has been impacted by the pandemic. Grace Manor, one of the LTC homes in Ontario, required assistance from the armed forces early in this pandemic, and the report they wrote had some shocking stories. This is an issue that Canadians care about deeply.
Mr. Chair, I need to explain why, as a local MP, I had to sign this letter, and why I believe all members of this committee should support this motion. Due to the dedicated work by a group of long-term care families, multiple stories emerged from a long-term care home in my riding. First, there was a recent story that a staff member had been withholding medication to residents. Second, residents died of dehydration. In my riding, Mr. Chair, residents died of dehydration. This happened after the CAF report, Mr. Chair.
Last Friday there was a protest in my riding organized by families of long-term care residents worried about their loved ones, about their parents, about their grandparents. This is happening in June 2021, a year and a half into this pandemic.
Mr. Chair, I'm confident that any member of this committee would be ringing the alarm if this happened in their riding or in their province. Many of us have met with individual family members and organized communities leaders, such as the Canadians for long-term care group. In a response to this motion they said that they are beyond happy to see this. The Canadian Association for Long Term Care is ready to take part in this. People want the issue of long-term care taken seriously.
I want to share maybe the single most important reason that this committee needs to undertake this study as the next priority. According to the National Institute on Ageing's long-term care COVID-19 tracker, residents of long-term care homes accounted for only 4% of the positive cases in Ontario, but 42% of COVID-19 deaths in the province have been among the residents of long-term care homes. Nationwide, it is 59%, despite only counting as 6% of positive test cases. This is a shocking figure.
When the majority of deaths have a clear commonality, it is important that we investigate that as part of the COVID study. The seniors and other residents of these homes are among the most vulnerable Canadians, and the provincial government has a duty of care to them, which was grossly neglected during this pandemic.
Our seniors did not just build this country; they defended it too. Generations of brave Canadians from all walks of life have stepped forward to serve and sacrifice for our country. Hundreds of thousands have fought and many continue to serve, so we have a responsibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the virus have disproportionately affected them, particularly those living in long-term care facilities. Some seniors spent a prolonged period alone and separated from their families and communities. We heard stories, Mr. Chair, where seniors could not see their family members who spoke their language, and they were so vulnerable. Many sad stories are there. Public health measures meant many seniors needed to rely on friends, families or community services for access to groceries and medicine.
During the first wave of the pandemic more than one in three long-term care homes across Canada faced an outbreak situation. They simply were not prepared for a severe outbreak of a virus like this. There is an extent to which this is understandable. The COVID virus did not even exist two years ago, and it spreads more easily than other common viruses. Most of us did not see this coming, but we need to know how to be prepared for the future.
Most people would have expected family facilities, like long-term care homes, to have standards to enforce infection controls and prevention procedures that would have reduced the risk of this virus. This was clearly not the case. Much has been said about the labour practices of industry, with personal support workers having to combine part-time shifts at multiple homes, and working conditions that do not encourage them to stick around. I have met with many representatives of PSW professionals, and there have regularly been issues of morale and stability in the field.
They have also told me about the impact of the pandemic on staff. It has been widely acknowledged in Ontario that the problems in our long-term care go back decades. However, even shortly before the pandemic began, the provincial government in Ontario made cuts to long-term care and health care services in its budgets, which led to decreased facility inspections and issues with staffing across the province.
We can all hope that the pandemic has been the wake-up call that will finally lead to short- and long-term improvements in long-term care homes, but we need a road map. After the tragedies we have seen, Canadians want the federal government to be there to work with the provinces and territories on what is their jurisdiction.
I have received hundreds of emails from my constituents asking for that, and I'm getting many calls right now. There has been much discussion about public versus private and non-profit versus for-profit homes. In Ontario, for-profit homes had significantly more deaths than public ones, and some parties have proposed eliminating for-profit homes entirely. However, not all provinces have had this experience, and this discrepancy between death rates, between these models, is less significant. We should hear testimony on the pros and cons of each model. We need to study this.
I know there are people who may think the federal government has no role in this issue, particularly in Quebec. I mentioned earlier that 59% of Canada's COVID deaths were in long-term care homes, but 72% of those were in Quebec, by far the most of any province or territory. That is why, from the beginning, we have been working with all the provinces and territories, including Quebec and Ontario.
Today, my colleague, Ms. O'Connell, referred to an article on the CBC website about the results of the inquiry into Quebec's situation in long-term care during the first wave. I read it a few minutes ago, and I was shocked. This inquiry says that Quebec authorities believed there was no asymptomatic transmission for weeks, allowing it to spread undetected. As Ms. O'Connell mentioned the source of this report was a coroner's inquest.
Géhane Kamel, the coroner, said the goal of the inquest was not to determine guilt but to come up with recommendations to prevent future tragedies.
I agree with her that the goal of this study was not to blame provinces but to work with them hand in hand. That is why we should be doing our own study on this issue to make recommendations as to how the federal government responds.
Going back to the article, there were disturbing things found by this report. For Canadians watching this committee at home, if you are easily disturbed, I recommend you mute my speech for about a minute.
These are the facts found by this inquest. There was a shortage of oxygen equipment. The report says that dead bodies were left untouched for hours and that staff were working despite having symptoms of COVID-19. A patient attendant could not receive a COVID test, despite losing his sense of smell two days earlier and having flu-like symptoms. He was told he couldn't be tested because he had not travelled abroad. Finally, I would like to use one last quote from a nurse in this article: “It was a horror movie.” Another nurse spoke of the delay in funeral homes' receiving bodies.
Mr. Chair, I'm so sorry about this horrible report out of Quebec today. How can we not work with Quebec and all provinces and territories?
The National Institute on Ageing researchers also found that deaths in Canada's long-term care settings were three times higher compared with other OECD countries. Not surprisingly, Mr. Chair, most Canadians fear having to move into a long-term care setting as they age after seeing what happened during this pandemic.
The armed forces reported on the conditions at the LTC in my riding, and I would like to remind members of this committee what they found.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces also assisted in long-term care facilities. The Canadian Red Cross is still helping. They did a crucial job helping with our parents, grandparents and elders. For that, we owe them our deepest thanks.
I mentioned it earlier in my remarks, but the details are important, Mr. Chair. Staff were found moving from COVID units to other units without changing contaminated PPE. They were not following basic infection-prevention policies like washing hands between patient interactions and were cleaning gloves with hand sanitizer instead of changing them. Wounds were not being treated in a sterile manner. Medications were not being properly documented. Staff were aggressive in repositioning the patients and were not assisting the residents during meals, documenting that they refused to eat rather than helping them. With regard to the last one, they were leaving food in the residents' mouths while they were sleeping. That was at the beginning of the pandemic. It was actually the most serious of the five homes within the report.
However, it was revealed that the Ministry of Long-Term Care continued to investigate the home. In March, it was found that the long-term care home's owner had failed to document the fluid intake of three residents. The result of this was that one of them died of dehydration. As a result of a separate investigation, a nurse who worked at the same home is now facing 11 charges of failing to provide the necessities of life for withholding medications from residents.
Mr. Chair, it is irresponsible. Not making substantial adjustments after the tragic first wave proved to be dangerously irresponsible. As it stands, Canada needs to be prepared to train higher and to fund more personal workers, even in the absence of a pandemic. We have an aging population and seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible, something that is even more true after the devastation that was seen in long-term care.
We need to bring improvements to this field, to the working conditions, to the pay and to the respect they are given. It is a field overwhelmingly dominated by women, often immigrants and people of colour. These workers need to be appreciated so that the best of them stay in the profession and the bad actors are no longer allowed to remain because we are desperate for workers.
Another home in the CAF report was the Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke. Some of the issues noted include COVID-positive patients not being isolated and continuing to room with ones who had tested negative. They were allowed to wander around, risking spread throughout the home.
There was a general culture to fail to use supplies, including basic PPE, because they cost money. The report also described severe understaffing during the day, leading to patients not having the proper support, and the morale and well-being of the staff being at risk. There were nearly a dozen fungal infections from improperly used catheters, and gross non-adherence to some recurring orders, such as regularly checking vital signs or turning patients, in some cases using the excuse that it may wake them.
They also noted abusive and aggressive behaviour, and degrading or inappropriate comments directed at residents, as well as inaccurate reporting to the patients' families regarding their status on things like feeding, pain levels and general conditions.
At Hawthorne Place Care Centre in North York, there was little to no disinfection done prior to catheterizing, with significant gross fecal contamination being noted in numerous patients' rooms. There was a significant shortage of RNs, especially on weekends. There was a significant deterioration of cleanliness standards throughout long-term care. Staff reported that some residents had not been fed for several weeks. Forceful feeding and dehydration was observed, causing choking and aspiration. There was a noted incident of a catheter being in place three weeks beyond the scheduled change date.
We also need to examine different ways that provincial governments have responded to the crisis in these homes. In Ontario the people were promised hiring around long-term care homes after the devastation of the first wave, but no substantive improvement materialized. As the second wave began, these facilities were still unprepared for a full outbreak. Despite warnings that there was an immediate need to hire and train more infection prevention experts and thousands of personal support workers, the provincial government remained slow to act.
We need to work on this for the sake of residents in long-term care and their families. Let me be clear. It is never too late to study this. It is never too late to talk about these issues. These issues are not over. These tragedies are not behind us. They are still happening today, not in Vancouver, not in Calgary, but they are happening here in my riding of Brampton South. This is why my constituents sent me here to speak on their behalf. I am doing so now, proudly and with full responsibility. We all have a responsibility.
I would like now to speak about our government's record for the awareness of the members of this committee and Canadians who are watching. Our position is clear. Those living in long-term care deserve safe and quality care, and to be treated with dignity. The pandemic has shone a light on systemic issues affecting long-term care facilities across the country. In 2020's fall economic statement, our government committed $1 billion to the safe long-term care fund to ensure our seniors and their caretakers are well protected and supported. Not only that, but in budget 2021 we have invested $3 billion to ensure standards across the nation for long-term care.
For a sense of what budget 2021 includes for Canada's seniors, I will list a few things.
Budget 2021 proposes to provide $90 million over three years, starting in 2021-22 to Employment and Social Development Canada to launch the age well at home initiative. Age well at home would assist community-based organizations in providing practical support that helps low-income and otherwise vulnerable seniors age in place, such as matching seniors with volunteers who can help with meal preparation, home maintenance, daily errands, yardwork and transportation.
This initiative would also support regional and national projects that help expand services that have already demonstrated results in helping seniors stay in their homes.
For example, knowledge hub can help seniors access the local services available to them, or provide information, resources and training to community-based organizations in delivering practical support to seniors.
Our position is clear. Those living in long-term care deserve safe, quality care and to be treated with dignity. As I said before, the pandemic has shone a light. Budget 2021 also proposes to provide $41.3 million over six years, and $7.7 million ongoing, starting in 2021-22, for Stats Canada to improve data infrastructure and data collection on supportive care, primary care, and pharmaceuticals.
We have invested every step of the way, and regularly supported our seniors with the funds required to keep them safe. However, we need to keep taking action. We need to continue acting in support of Canadians and long-term care homes, and we can do this through the help of this motion. We can make recommendations.
We are all so lucky to be Canadian. We have had one of the best vaccine rollouts in this world, and we are now number one in the G7, G20 and the OECD for first doses administered and rapidly catching up on the second doses.
Canada isn't great because it is Canada. It is great because of the Canadians who live here and who, for generations after generations, have worked hard to make this one of the best places to live in the world. From all over the world, hard-working individuals who wanted only the best for themselves, their families and their communities made their way to Canada. They built this country to what is it today from coast to coast to coast. Canada's seniors have given their all to leave behind a country that will propel us forward in this world and allow us to thrive, to prosper and to be able to reflect Canadians' values in our dealings with other countries.
All of us should reflect on the immense contributions Canada's seniors have made in shaping our country. They are friends, family, neighbours, co-workers and role models. They have laid the foundation for a better life for millions of Canadians.
On the Liberal side, we recognize the contribution of Canada's seniors to our country. Not everyone in this industry is a bad actor, Mr. Chair. It is full of dedicated, caring people working in circumstances that are difficult and emotionally draining at the best of times, but there's an urgent need to reform. The federal government has a role to play in protecting the health and safety of all Canadians. The children and families of long-term care residents have been asking for this for over a year, and we owe it to them to give this study full consideration.
Now that we are building back our economy and starting our recovery, let us find strength in the legacy of resiliency, determination and compassion provided to us by seniors. We owe them our debt of gratitude. Now we need to be there for those who raised us and built this country.
That is why the Liberal members on this committee have brought forward this motion to say to Canada's seniors that, yes, absolutely, they deserve safe, quality care, and they deserve to be treated with dignity.
Let's hear from families. Let's hear from workers. Let us study this.
This is a very important issue. We need to study this. We need to give some recommendations. Our seniors are looking. Canadians are watching. Mr. Chair, this is our responsibility.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.