Family Councils in the long-term care (LTC) homes in the Northeast are concerned about the health and welfare of all front-line workers in these facilities.
We urge the government of Ontario and LTC home operators to take every precaution to protect workers. As the SARS Commission Report (2003) emphasized, if workers aren’t safe, neither are the residents.
There is a staggering number of LTC staff and residents falling ill to COVID-19 throughout the province and we now have outbreaks here in the North.
Recently, there have also been at least two significant legal developments. The Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Labour Relations Board in separate proceedings ruled that much more needs to be done to protect workers in four LTC homes in southern Ontario. These two decisions have implications for all homes because a reasonable precaution in one home is a reasonable precaution in all.
As family councils, we want to support homes in doing everything possible to protect workers so they can protect our loved ones, but directives from health authorities and the government are confusing.
To date, the LTC guidance from the Ontario government has been insufficient to protect workers and their residents from COVID-19, emphasizing conservation rather than use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and even allowing COVID-19 positive workers to return to work in homes where residents are dying from the infection.
Strangely, provincial advice says on one hand LTC workers, for safety reasons, need to confine their work to a single home, while on the other hand it allows, even encourages, workers from hospitals and agencies to come and go between workplaces.
Equally concerning is the fact the Ontario government has not mandated the use of proper respirators, of at least N95 quality, that are needed to protect workers in proximity to suspect and confirmed residents, from inhaling the virus and becoming unwitting vectors, potentially transmitting the disease to residents and bringing it home to their families.
Family councils around the province want to support homes in moving beyond government directed confusion to take every precaution here and now. In keeping with what has been encouraged by Ontario family councils elsewhere in the province, we urge and support you to:
Test and ensure the timely return of test results of all residents and staff to identify COVID-19 positive infection and isolate residents/staff to stop spread.
To re-test all staff and residents who have tested positive with COVID-19 before they are released from isolation or return to work at the LTC home.
Provide and train front line LTC staff with enough PPE including but not limited to impermeable gowns, gloves and at least N95 respirators when in proximity to suspect and confirmed COVID persons.
Not allow any workers, permanent or re-deployed, to work in alternate workplaces and to ensure safe staffing levels.
Engage safety committees to assist in the development and monitoring of effectiveness of, measures, procedures, equipment and training.
We are grateful to the frontline workers who are committed to care for our family members. We thank the LTC homes who have voluntarily shared information about the protocols and measures being taken to protect residents and staff and we ask that you continue to be open and transparent about all information regarding COVID transmission in your home. Our organizations are committed to work with administration, staff and the community to prevent COVID-19 in our homes, and to effectively stop it if it does cross our thresholds.
Nancy Johnson is the co-chair of the Northeast Family Councils Network (NEFCN)/Grand Family Council Greater Sudbury (GFCGS).