Ontario's patient ombudsman is calling for more visitation rights and better communication in hospitals and long-term care homes, after receiving more than 1,000 complaints during the second and third waves of the pandemic.
Craig Thompson received 1,076 complaints related to hospitals, long-term care, vaccination clinics and other issues from June 30, 2020 to April 30 of this year, according to his report released Monday. The report follows an earlier one released in October 2020 by then-patient ombudsman Cathy Fooks on the first wave of COVID-19.
Visitation restrictions in public hospitals and LTC homes made up the most frequent complaints, says Thompson's report, which added that barring visitors caused "significant distress to patients and caregivers."
"The pandemic has laid bare what the health care system deems to matter and what it does not. Too often during the past year and a half, considerations around quality of life, human connection, individual agency, and fair process have been dismissed or disregarded in the rush to address COVID-19," Thompson said.
Quality of life and human connection were often "dismissed or disregarded" in order to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks, he said.
A Canadian Armed Forces report released at the height of the pandemic revealed poor conditions and elder abuse in five Ontario long-term care homes, including homes with cockroaches and residents left in beds with soiled diapers.
At Orchard Villa — which saw one of the worst outbreaks in the province — troops had to send a senior to hospital after they fractured a hip and weren't cared for by staff.
Another resident at the home died from being fed while lying down.
The second and third waves brought hundreds of more cases and deaths among elderly residents.
Thompson is now calling on the provincial government to legislate a right to visit for patients in public hospitals and residents in LTC homes.
"We felt that in wave two there was a rush to use restrictions on visitation as a first line of defence to keep staff and patients safe. But we feel that should always be a last resort to restrict at those levels," he said.
The second most common complaints found in the ombudsman report were related to limited and confusing messages from healthcare organizations.
Thompson says public hospitals and LTC homes should be prepared with plans to communicate policy changes that affect patients and caregivers.
Thompson is also calling for post-pandemic mental health support for healthcare workers.
Ministry of LTC responds
In a statement to CBC News, Ontario's Ministry of Long-Term Care wrote, "homes should balance residents' rights to receive visitors of their choice with the health and safety of residents, staff and other visitors in the home."
"The government also recognizes that staff in long-term care homes are the backbone of the sector and is committed to using every resource available to support them," the statement added.
The ministry said it will take the ombudsman's recommendations "into account" when it introduces legislation in the fall related to improving long-term care in Ontario.
CBC News also reached out to the provincial Ministry of Health, which responded with a written statement.
"We will continue to review the Ombudsman's report in greater detail and work towards our common goal of creating a health-care system that is centred around the patient," the statement reads. .