Long-term care homes in Ontario need "immediate emergency intervention with whatever resources are available" to prevent more deaths from COVID-19, advocates said on Tuesday.
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, a network of more than 400 grassroots community organizations, said the province needs to hire more personal support workers without further delay. Basic care is needed right now, she said.
"There is no care without staffing. You need the staff to provide the care. That's the bottom line," Mehra said.
"At this point, the levels have dropped to the lowest that anyone in the sector has ever seen. It's an emergency. Immediately, we need emergency intervention."
Mehra said staff could be drawn from the ranks of primary care and community care workers, retired nurses, paramedics and members of the military. She said it needs to be "all hands on deck" and the province should follow the lead of Quebec in launching a recruitment strategy.
"The military needs to be brought in," she said. "There is no way out of this. Vaccine or not, the staffing has crumbled in the homes and they need to get staff in there to provide care. It needs to happen immediately."
Her comments came after Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a second state of emergency and issued a provincial stay-at-home order that starts on Thursday.
Modelling shows 2nd wave deaths to exceed 1st wave
New modelling presented on Tuesday before the announcement of new provincial restrictions shows that nearly 40 per cent of long-term care facilities, or 252 homes, have active COVID-19 outbreaks.
Since Jan. 1, 198 long-term care residents and two staff members have died of COVID-19. Forecasts suggest there will be more long-term care home deaths in the second wave than in the first wave, when 1,815 long-term care residents died.
Ford and his ministers announced no new changes specifically for long-term care at their news conference.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said: "We are building that iron ring around the long term care homes by the vaccinations that we're doing, and we have centred our vaccination efforts on vaccinating the residents of long term care homes, their essential caregivers and the staff that are coming in."
Elliott said vaccinations are "proceeding very well" in Ontario's four hot spots: Toronto, Peel Region, Windsor-Essex and York Region.
WATCH | CBC's Lorenda Reddekopp reports on projections for long-term care and reaction to the premier's announcement on Tuesday:
Windsor-Essex has told the province that it has completed vaccinations of all of its long-term care residents, while the City of Toronto has said it will have done so by Jan. 18, she said. Peel and York Regions are also on track, she added.
Mehra disputed the minister's claim, saying there is no "iron ring" around long-term care homes in Ontario.
"It's mythical. It does not exist," she said.
Basic infection control measures not in place, advocate says
Mehra said she heard on Monday from a personal support worker who is working in a home with an outbreak, where personal support workers don't have access to N95 masks.
"Even some of the workers who are working directly with the COVID-positive residents have surgical masks and face shields, that's it," she said.
"That's the state of infection control in a number of these homes. The basic infection control measures that were supposed to be put in place in the first wave are not happening."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, said at least 10,000 more staff members are needed in long-term care and infection prevention and control experts are needed in every long-term care home.
She said she was "pretty shocked" by the lack of action announced by the premier on Tuesday.
"The lack of new measures by this premier is absolutely horrifying," Horwath said. "Ontarians are going to pay the price."
Horwath said the measures announced aren't dramatically different than what the government has already been asking people to do for weeks.
"This is an absolutely inadequate response that completely lacks urgency that the circumstances demand," she said.