Ontario nursing homes badly prepared for COVID-19 pandemic, auditor general says

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TORONTO — Ontario's auditor general says long-term care homes were poorly prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bonnie Lysyk says both the provincial government and the nursing-home sector failed to heed lessons learned from the SARS epidemic.

In addition, Lysyk says concerns about systemic weaknesses raised repeatedly for years went unaddressed.

Her special report also notes the sector's lack of integration within the health-care system.

As a result, she says long-term care homes were unable to benefit from hospital and public health expertise in infection controls.

COVID-19 hit Ontario's long-term care homes with brutal and lethal effect last spring. In all, the disease killed at least 3,756 residents and 11 staff. At one point, the military had to go in to help at the worst-hit homes.

"Neither the Ministry of Long-Term Care nor the long-term-care sector was sufficiently positioned, prepared or equipped to respond to the issues created by the pandemic in an effective and expedient way," Lysyk writes.

Lysyk's report makes 16 recommendations to address the findings.

Those include requiring operators to renovate and upgrade their homes more quickly and coming up with a provincial strategy to address "root causes" of staffing shortages.

It also urges development of a pandemic plan for the sector.

"There should be no surprises in the content and recommendations in this report," she said. "Many of the issues and recommendations have either been highlighted or recommended previously."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press