Ontario NDP calls on OPP to investigate deaths in long-term care settings

BT Toronto | posted Friday, May 7th, 2021

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath is asking provincial police to investigate if criminal charges are warranted in the wake of reports into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care settings.

A 322-page report released late last week by the independent Long-Term Care Commission, along with the Auditor General’s report released several days earlier, both concluded the Ford government was slow in responding to COVID-19 in long-term care settings while calling for sweeping reforms in a sector that had long been neglected by past and present governments.

In a letter to OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Horwath says the deaths of many long-term care residents were not due to COVID-19, but the “callous, documented neglect of their basic necessities of life.” She pointed to at least 26 seniors who died, not from COVID-19, but from a lack of water and personal care.

“Ontarians have learned that their loved ones perished in long-term care homes from the Ontario government’s failure to protect our most vulnerable seniors in their most critical moments of need, and these seniors and their families are owed justice,” writes Horwath.

“I am asking for the Ontario Provincial Police to evaluate whether a criminal investigation is warranted into these deaths.”

The Long-Term Care Commission report noted that when the military was called in to assist at several long-term care facilities struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks, “they found deplorable conditions” and that 26 residents died due to dehydration prior to the arrival of the CAF team due to the lack of staff to care for them.

“They died when all they need was ‘water and a wipe down,’” they were quoted as saying in the report.

The military team also reported that there had been resident deaths due to dehydration and malnourishment, according to the commission which noted staff were “struggling to maintain fundamental standards of care which, in some cases, expose[d] patients to elevated risks.”

At the time when the military’s disturbing allegations were presented, Premier Ford said they would be launching a “full investigation” into the allegations and would be sharing those results with police so they can look into any possible criminal charges. However, on Wednesday, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones indicated no such investigation had been carried out by her ministry.

“Investigations would not happen at a provincial level or a ministry level, they would be the responsibility of either local police departments, or in some cases, they would refer it to another division or another police operation,” said Jones. “There was no Solicitor General led investigation, nor would there ever be, frankly.”

Opposition leaders have called for the resignation of Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, but Premier Doug Ford staunchly defended her in the legislature saying he has “full confidence” in her and that the blame should fall on him instead.

“I know it’s easy for the Leader of the Opposition to blame my great minister, but the buck stops with me. It stops with me and I’ll take responsibility,” Ford said.

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