Ontario's Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission to interview Williams, Elliott, Fullerton next week

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Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, will be interviewed by the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission on Friday.
Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario's minister of long-term care, will be interviewed by the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission on Friday.

(Chris Young/The Canadian Press - image credit)

An independent commission looking into how Ontario handled the deadly spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes will interview high-ranking provincial government officials next week.

The officials to be interviewed by the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission include Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

In an update posted online on Friday night, the commission said it will interview Williams on Monday, Elliott on Wednesday and Fullerton on Friday.

As well, the commission said it will interview Deputy Health Minister Helen Angus on Wednesday and Deputy Long-Term Care Minister Richard Steele on Friday.

The commission said the interviews are part of its investigation, which is probing how the novel coronavirus was able to penetrate the province's long-term care system, leading to outbreaks in hundreds of homes and the deaths of nearly 4,000 people.

The commission, which was announced by the province last summer, is expected to submit its final report on April 30. Under its terms of reference, it is required to investigate and report on the causes of the spread of COVID-19 in province's long-term care homes.

"Based on our ongoing investigation, our final report will provide an account of what happened throughout the pandemic and provide a broad range of recommendations that deal with pre-COVID systemic challenges and factors that contributed to the tragedy in long-term care homes," the commission said in a Dec. 4, 2020 letter to Fullerton.

Last month, the province denied a request from the three-person commission to extend its work until Dec. 31.

White crosses that represent residents who died of COVID-19 have been placed on the lawn of Camilla Care Community, a long-term care home in Mississauga, Ont.
White crosses that represent residents who died of COVID-19 have been placed on the lawn of Camilla Care Community, a long-term care home in Mississauga, Ont.

White crosses that represent residents who died of COVID-19 have been placed on the lawn of Camilla Care Community, a long-term care home in Mississauga, Ont.

In a Dec. 9, 2020 letter to Fullerton, in which it requested the extension, the commission noted it has held more than 70 meetings with government representatives, stakeholders and experts and generated more than 5,880 pages of public transcripts.

The commission has delivered two interim reports with interim recommendations.

Tragedy is 'responsibility of this government,' MPP says

On Wednesday, independent MPP Roman Baber, who represents York Centre, spoke in question period about the issue of the government's handling of the pandemic and the impact of its actions on long-term care homes.

"The tragedy in long-term care is the responsibility of this government," Baber said.

"Since the first declaration of emergency 11 months ago, and having had more than four months this summer to prepare for the second wave, the government still cannot fix the crisis in long-term-care homes," he continued.

"One of the main reasons for the crisis is a chronic shortage of staff, leading not only to deplorable conditions but failure to implement a proper infection protocol. Temporary and agency workers are still allowed to work at more than one home, and while this government is continuing to lock down the province, all it takes is one worker—one—to bring COVID into a long-term- care home, resulting in disaster."

Baber said, according to ministry data, almost 60 per cent of all fatalities due to the pandemic have been seniors in long-term care homes.

"Now, not only did this government fail to make that meaningful distinction and focus protection where it's required, the government utterly failed to protect our long-term care seniors," he said.

3,838 long-term care home residents have died in pandemic

According to Public Health Ontario's Daily Epidemiologic Summary, from Jan. 15, 2020 to Feb. 19, 2021, a total of 3,838 long-term care residents have died with COVID-19.

The ministry reported on Friday that 130 long-term care homes are currently in outbreak, while 379 homes have resolved outbreaks.