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Ontario deciding which long-term care homes to get Red Cross support


TORONTO — Some of Ontario's long-term care homes will need more assistance than others to handle the second wave of COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday as the province weighs which facilities should get help from the Canadian Red Cross.

Ford said the provincial and federal governments are working together to finalize details of the deployment, which was announced over the weekend.

Asked why the additional support was required, and whether it would be provided to other facilities down the road, Ford said only that it's "all hands on deck" as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Ontario.

"I just want to make sure we have all the support we need in these long-term care homes," he said in a news conference.

"As the spread continues, no matter if it's long-term care or any other areas ... the greater the spread in the community, the greater the chance it's going to get into long-term care homes."

The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents nearly 70 per cent of facilities in the province, said Tuesday it welcomes the support, stressing staff in the system "urgently need more hands-on support to protect and care for residents."

"OLTCA has been clear about the pervasive staffing crisis in Ontario's long-term care homes before COVID-19, and worked to find solutions as the pandemic exacerbated it," including through federal and provincial supports, the organization's CEO, Donna Duncan, said in a statement.

"We now have some commitments for critical measures to secure this, like adequate personal protective equipment and testing prioritization, but they need to be implemented quickly and enhanced to make a real impact."  

On Sunday, the federal government announced it had approved a request from Ontario to send the Red Cross to seven long-term care facilities in Ottawa.

The federal minister of public safety, Bill Blair, tweeted that the organization would "help assess and stabilize the situation" in the homes, but gave no further details regarding its role.

The Canadian Red Cross said it was also waiting for details to be finalized, but that it would likely offer similar support to what it provided to Quebec long-term care facilities.

Scores of Red Cross-trained workers were sent to long-term care homes in Quebec over the summer to provide temporary support until staff trained by the province could take over. Military personnel had previously been dispatched to the facilities.

According to the Red Cross website, workers sent to long-term care homes may take on duties such as helping residents with daily activities, reporting and documentation, and overseeing the work of the long-term care team.

Critics said the lack of details about the Ontario deployment shows the province and its long-term care homes aren't sufficiently prepared for the resurgence of COVID-19.

"After weeks of insisting that long-term care facilities were ready for a second wave of COVID-19, the Ford government is once again scrambling to contain outbreaks," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

"This is a total failure and Doug Ford needs to tell us today: what homes are at risk and what are they doing to prepare?"

COVID-19 tore through Ontario's long-term care homes in the pandemic's first wave and has killed more than 1,950 residents.

The provincial government has since launched a commission to investigate how the virus spread in the long-term care system and come up with recommendations.

The commission has heard doctors testify that long-term care homes were neglected earlier this year as the province focused on preparing its hospitals for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.

Provincial data indicates outbreaks have been increasing in the homes once more, with 66 facilities currently dealing with one.

Last week, the province announced the hospital network Unity Health Toronto had reached a management agreement with a local nursing home to help address the spread of COVID-19 at the facility.

It said the network has been managing the Norwood Nursing Home since Sept. 30, and said the voluntary deal will be in place for 90 days, with the possibility of extension. The latest provincial figures show fewer than five resident cases at the home, and fewer than five cases among staff.

Meanwhile, the province said there were 746 new COVID-19 cases recorded on Tuesday, and 807 on Monday. Nine new deaths were also reported Tuesday, and three on Monday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday's new cases include 311 in Toronto, 135 in Peel Region and 116 in Ottawa.

Earlier Tuesday, the federal and provincial agriculture ministers announced that Ontario's farmers and other agri-food businesses — another sector hard-hit by the pandemic — can now apply for federal funding aimed at keeping workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government said $11.6 million will help with improvements for Ontario farms such as building physical barriers for worker separation, upgrading HVAC systems and improving hand-washing facilities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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