The Ontario minister of long-term care blamed previous governments for the absence of comprehensive inspections at long-term-care homes, including the site of Hamilton’s worst outbreak.
On Feb. 16, Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor asked during question period at Queen’s Park about Grace Villa in response to The Spectator’s report that it’s been more than two years since such inspections occurred at homes in the city.
“I was shocked to learn Grace Villa’s last comprehensive inspection was back in 2018,” Taylor said. “This is a massive failure in keeping long-term-care residents safe.”
The NDP MPP said she saw the “failure” play out at the Lockton Crescent home, where its devastating outbreak reached 234 cases and 44 of its 156 residents died between Nov. 25 and Jan. 20. Days after the outbreak ended, Taylor released letters from the home’s workers describing critical understaffing, deplorable sanitation and preventable deaths inside the outbreak.
Last week, The Spectator reported that a Resident Quality Inspection (RQI), an unannounced comprehensive inspection of a facility, last took place in Hamilton in Fall 2018. That was also at Grace Villa.
After Doug Ford’s 2018 election, the province moved away from RQIs to complaint-based inspections — which the ministry says was in response a recommendation from the Ontario auditor general to clear a backlog of complaints.
“We needed to clear 8,000 incident cases and complaints that had not been addressed by the previous government,” said Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, in response to Taylor.
Fullerton said the auditor general’s 2015 recommendations — which said to “prioritize comprehensive inspections,” not stop them — were due to a backlog of 8,000 complaints. The report listed the backlog at 2,800 as of March 2015. In an email, the ministry clarified that by fall 2018, the number of complaints and critical incidents had reached 8,000.
Taylor also pointed to how a provincial inspector found no issues at Grace Villa in the thick of its outbreak. “The very next day, the crisis in the home was so bad that Hamilton Health Sciences had to take over,” she said.
The ministry has “zero tolerance” for noncompliance, Fullerton said, pointing to the one-case threshold for a long-term-care home to be considered in outbreak, prompting COVID-19 protocols.
“The speed with which COVID moves is unparalleled,” Fullerton added. “Everyone at Grace Villa has been in our thoughts.”
Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator