Military teams raise concerns about conditions at Ontario care homes

Military personnel sent to nursing homes in Ontario have observed shocking conditions, including “blatant disregard” for infection control measures, mistreatment of residents and a level of care described as “horrible,” according to documents obtained by Global News.

Canadian Armed Forces teams deployed to five of the province’s worst-hit long-term care homes to help control COVID-19 have raised concerns about each of the facilities, describing the care as ranging from below best practices to “borderline abusive, if not abusive” and worse, the documents show.

Infection prevention and control measures were found to be a particular problem, with Personal Protective Equipment protocols going unheeded by staff, many of whom were not properly trained, according to the documents obtained from a source familiar with the mission.

The soldiers reported witnessing cockroaches, flies, rotten food, as well as residents left in soiled diapers or crying out for help for lengthy periods, the documents allege. At one facility, residents had not been bathed in weeks, they said.

Staff at a Brampton nursing home allegedly recorded a Taylor Swift Dance Video showing them dancing through the facility, passing between areas deemed infected with COVID-19 and area that were uninfected without wearing any protective equipment, the documents claimed.

At a facility in Etobicoke, residents who tested positive for COVID-19 shared rooms with uninfected residents, separated only by a curtain, the documents said.

Global News was not able to independently verify the allegations made by the military concerning the homes. The military documents did not always specify at which of the five long-term facilities the problematic care practices were alleged to been been observed.

After Global News first reported on the concerns Tuesday, the Ontario government released a report summarizing the military’s findings, which the province said it had received from the federal government over the weekend.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government had launched a full investigation into the allegations contained in the report, and the results would be shared with police to “look into any possible criminal charges.”

“I think it is appalling, I think it is disgusting what has happened,” the premier told reporters. “It is so disturbing that when I read this it was hard to get through. It is the most heart-wrenching report that I have ever read in my entire life.”

“There will be accountability, there will be justice for these residents and their families as soon as we receive these reports,” he said.

The province has referred one death depicted in the report to the coroner for investigation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the military’s observations were “extremely troubling” and he had spoken to Ford about the matter.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association said in a statement the pandemic had “exacerbated systemic issues, like the longstanding staffing challenges.”

The industry association called on the Ontario government to immediately provide “more personal protective equipment and rapid testing,” invest in older homes and urgently expedite “capital redevelopment funding.”

The CEO of Holland Christian Homes said he was “shocked and dismayed” at the issues identified in the report but said the problems at his facility, Grace Manor, had been addressed and the military deployment ended Tuesday evening.

“Over the past two weeks, the situation at Grace Manor has stabilized to the point where the military recommended they withdraw from Grace Manor in order to be redeployed to situations considered more critical,” Ken Rawlins said.

Meanwhile, the company that operates the Altamont care home said it was committed to ensuring the problems identified by the military were “all dealt with immediately and permanently.”

“As the report notes, we have already increased staffing levels and flattened the infection curve,” said Natalie Gokchenian of Sienna Senior Living.

“To deliver the level of care that our seniors deserve, the staffing challenges we face in the long-term care sector must be addressed. We are committed to working with the government, and our health system partners, to solve this urgent issue.”


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