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Ontario ombudsman launches long-term care probe following military report

According to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, 1,648 residents have died amid COVID-19 outbreaks in the facilities
long term care

TORONTO — Ontario's ombudsman launched an investigation Monday into the province's pandemic oversight of long-term care homes, where more than 1,600 residents and seven staff members have died of COVID-19.

Ombudsman Paul Dube said he is starting the investigation not because of receiving complaints, which is the usual process for his office, but because of what he read in a recent military report on five long-term care homes in Ontario.

"The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis," Dube said in a statement.

"Our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action."

The investigation will focus on whether the government oversight has been adequate to ensure the safety of residents and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

According to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, 1,648 residents have died amid COVID-19 outbreaks in the facilities.

Ontario called in military assistance for five homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks in April. Members said they observed cockroach infestations, aggressive feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours.

Investigators with the ombudsman's office will look at aspects of the system including complaint handling, emergency planning, data collection, infection and death rates and communication with long-term care home residents, staff and the public.

Premier Doug Ford said he welcomes the investigation.

"I need answers," he said. "I want answers. We need to get this fixed and we're going to get this fixed."

Ford has also said Ontario has launched a "full investigation" into the allegations in the military report and will share the results with police so they can look into any possible criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the government expanded on an announcement from the weekend that Ontario is extending its COVID-19 residential electricity rate relief for another five months, though the fixed price will be going up by nearly three cents per kilowatt hour.

Hydro rates will now be a flat 12.8 cents per kilowatt hour, regardless of the time of day — higher than the 10.1-cent off-peak rate that has been charged all day since electricity relief was introduced on March 24.

That flat rate will be in effect until Oct. 31, and as of November, customers will be able to either choose to stick with a time-of-use plan or tiered pricing, which sets one rate up to a certain level of consumption.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford said that 12.8 cents is still lower than the current on-peak and mid-peak rates.

"The 10.1 cent question about it, it's helped families during the intense part," Rickford said.

"But moving forward...we want certainty. That's what we've heard from consumers."

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 404 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 10 more deaths.

Associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said more than half of the new cases were from Toronto and the neighbouring Peel region. She couldn't say, however, if last weekend's nice weather and a large crowd in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park contributed to the increase in cases.

Monday marked the first time Ontario has seen more than 400 new cases in a day since May 25.

The new cases brought the province to a total of 28,263 cases — an increase of 1.5 per cent over the previous day. The total includes 2,276 deaths and 22,153 cases that have been resolved.

Hospitalizations and the number of people on ventilators remained steady, but the number of patients in intensive care increased.

The number of tests completed in the previous day dropped to 14,379, down from a high of over 20,000 reported Saturday. The amount tends to fall after a weekend.

As part of a push to increase testing levels, Ford announced Monday that mobile testing units will start being rolled out across the province, starting with a location Tuesday in the east Toronto area of Scarborough.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press