Every time Daniel Silcox makes the headlines these days, it’s like losing his father again.
“These poor souls in these long term settlements should be protected. They have been vulnerable from day one and they are dying and my heart is crying out to their families,” said Silcox of the hundreds of people who contracted COVID-19 in Ontario long-term care homes.
Silcox’s father James, an 84-year-old veteran, was one of the first victims of Elizabeth Wettlaufer, the nurse convicted of killing or injuring 16 elderly people in long-term care facilities. He died in August 2007 when Wettlaufer injected him with insulin at the Caressant Care Home in Woodstock, Ontario.
Wettlaufer is serving a life sentence imposed in 2017 for giving his victims massive doses of insulin to meet what she called his “red push” to kill.
For more than a decade, the serial killer has manipulated the shortcomings of Ontario’s long-term care system to attack the elderly.
The subsequent investigation into the safety and security of people in the province’s long-term care system made recommendations that could have saved lives, says Silcox, if they had been implemented before the COVID pandemic -19 does not prevail in these establishments.
As of Thursday, more than 930 long-term care residents in the province have been infected with the new coronavirus and 162 have died after contracting COVID-19.
“It’s just, just out of control. There was no need for that, not at all. If our priorities had been well defined, we would have protected these poor souls a long time ago,” he said. told CBC News.
The survey, which released its final report in July 2019, identified underfunding by the provincial government, understaffing and, in the case of Wettlaufer, its ability to find work with recruitment agencies that l sent from a nursing home to a home where she continued her attacks.
Now, as COVID-19 ravages residents of more than 100 nursing homes in Ontario, these same problems persist.
Many victims are believed to have been infected by staff who continue to work in several nursing homes for a living.
“They are overworked, underpaid, exhausted and they have to work two or three different jobs to make a living and maybe spread this virus from one home to another,” said Silcox.
“It is absolutely shameful. Absolutely shameful,” he said.
Premier Doug Ford urgently banned personal care staff working in several facilities on Wednesday, but that will not begin until next week. It also does not cover personal support workers (PSW) hired through agencies.
It also set aside $ 243 million to test staff and residents of long-term care homes for COVID-19.
“A forgotten pillar of the system”
Toronto lawyer Alex Van Kralingen represented several families who were victims of Wettlaufer during the public inquiry.
He acknowledges that the same vulnerabilities that allowed Wettlaufer to attack elderly patients remain a concern.
“Here is another type of security problem, but I think the solution is actually quite comparable,” he said, referring to the new coronavirus pandemic.
“If you look at the different pillars of our health care system, that pillar, the long-term care sector, is often an underfunded pillar and frankly, a forgotten pillar of the system,” said Van Kralingen.
“Most of the challenges we face today are the result of structural underfunding of the entire system for decades.”
He says several recommendations from the investigation would have helped protect patients in long-term care from the pandemic.
“You have to improve the staffing levels; you need to improve the amount of home funding for these front-line workers. It’s the only way we’re going to keep older Canadians safe. ”
The investigation also recommended that the province:
- Create new permanent funding for staffing in long-term care facilities.
- Improve its long-term care facility performance evaluation program to better identify those who are struggling to provide a safe and secure environment.
- Conduct a study to determine the appropriate levels of registered nursing staff in long-term care facilities and file the results by July 31, 2020.
The province has responded to some, but not all, staffing and funding recommendations.
In February, for example, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced that the staff study would go ahead, but that it would not be completed until the end of 2020.
“The sector is experiencing a serious shortage of personal support workers and other key roles, and that is why our government is taking action to help Ontarians fill these satisfying and desirable jobs.” recognized Minister of Long-Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton.
But Silcox says the system still needs massive changes.
“Regarding the long-term care file, it seems to be in line and on the file, they dropped the ball badly,” he said.
“Losing daddy, our real hope was that it would help improve the health care system in the long run, and that would be his legacy,” he added.
“Now that COVID is denigrating the system, my heart goes out now to the people who lost their lives, to the people who lost their husbands, wives, fathers, mothers. It will be their inheritance.”