The troubling and sad news from care homes continued to come this last week. In a particularly notable headline the Toronto Star noted that ‘Frontline workers do not have N95s but supervisors are wearing them: Troubling allegations emerge at car homes hit by COVID-19”. If these allegations are true they are telling of the approach that care homes are taking to looking after their patients, staff and bureaucrats.
We place our loved ones in long term care homes once we have exhausted the options for looking after them at home, or when the elderly have no where else to go, or when their medical needs exceed any practical home care options. We fund them out of our own pockets at great expense, the state funds them as well. Clearly, they are a money making industry as a few giant firms own the majority of them. The question then becomes – How did we get here?
I’ve posted the Toronto Star article below here in case you missed it in the news. We need to fix the system which is so badly broken. I posting more frequently on my Deutschmann Personal Injury Law and Disability website about current affairs if you would like to hop over there as well to keep up. The outcome of the filings at the Ontario Labour Relations Board are also being followed there.
‘Frontline workers do not have N95s but supervisors are wearing them’: Troubling allegations emerge at care homes hit by COVID-19
By Sara MojtehedzadehWork and Wealth Reporter Wed., April 22, 2020 6 min. read
Confusion. Exhaustion. Fear. Tragedy.
This is the picture of the “unlawfully inadequate” response to the COVID-19 pandemic at three for-profit long-term care homes — alleged in intimate detail through hundreds of pages of submissions, internal communications, and written declarations from front-line workers.
The documentation filed this week by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to the Ontario labour relations board seeks immediate relief to “protect the lives of both employees and residents,” including an order to place the care homes under the direct control of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
The application contains allegations of numerous occupational health and safety concerns, including lack of transparency about COVID-19 infections, severe understaffing, and critical shortages of personal protective equipment at Altamont Care Community, Anson Place and Eatonville Care Centre, where some of the province’s most severe outbreaks have unfolded.
One written declaration from a worker at Altamont, where 28 residents have died, said employees were not fitted with N95 masks until the day after staff member Christine Mandegarian died from COVID-19.
“The day after Christine died, April 16, 2020, was the first time front-line workers were given N95 masks,” says the written declaration from personal support worker Karen Ellington, who has also since fallen ill with the virus.
“We were told ‘don’t throw it away, we don’t know when you’re getting another one.’
”Responsive Group Inc., the company that operates Anson Place and Eatonville, said it was committed to providing a safe environment for its staff and said it has been successful in obtaining additional PPE supplies to combat shortages and meet strict public health requirements.
“It was difficult to hear that some our staff feel we have not done everything possible to protect them throughout this crisis,” the emailed statement said. “We need to do better.”
In a statement to the Star, Sienna Senior Living said it was aware of the labour board application and “Will be filing our detailed response to the application in the coming days.”
“The Company has acted in compliance with health guidelines and applicable legislation, including those relating to the use of personal protective equipment, and intends to vigorously defend itself against the application,” its statement said.
Late Tuesday night, the company told the Star it had made its reply to the labour board that said the union’s application reflects “either a fundamental lack of knowledge of the material facts, or a decision to ignore them.”
“Our response outlines in detail how the Company has provided proper equipment, materials and protective devices in accordance with applicable regulations; has provided information, instruction and supervision to team members; and has taken every reasonable precaution in the face of an unprecedented situation.”
“Sienna remains singularly focused on protecting the health and safety of team members and residents in our facilities, and on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting vulnerable seniors.”
SEIU represents some 60,000 front-line health workers, and wants the provincial labour board to order “immediate emergency orders” to protect its members and the residents in their care. The interventions sought by the union include orders directing employers to provide sufficient protective gear for workers, increase staffing, and provide transparent information on outbreaks.
“We are witnessing what happens when hollow words are met with failed action. That is why we are seeking an emergency hearing before the Board for immediate relief to our front-line members,” said the union’s president Sharleen Stewart in a statement.
“We will not stop until every worker is protected and every senior receives the care they deserve.”
Ontario employers have a legal obligation under occupational health and safety laws to take every precaution reasonable to protect workers from illness and injury, including from infectious disease. SEIU’s labour board submission says the three privately-operated care homes named in its application failed to meet that responsibility.
“The employer is, quite frankly, failing the members, the residents, their families, and the public at large by its unlawfully inadequate response to this crisis,” the union’s application about each of the care homes says.
At Eatonville, where as of late Tuesday 36 residents have died — the highest number in Ontario — the application says “staff on some floors are provided with PPE, and on other floors they are not.” Email correspondence from the union to management of the facility says workers should be given hazard pay, and raises repeated concerns about personal protective gear and poor information flow about staff and residents falling ill.
In the correspondence, management for the nursing home said the facility had shared the ministry’s directives with workers and thrown a pizza party in early April to thank staff.
“A pizza lunch is appreciated but members would prefer to be informed,” says an email from union representative Maria Da Silva.
“Frontline workers do not have N95s but supervisors are wearing them,” adds another email from Da Silva dated April 15. “Surgical masks are not being given or are being worn and not being replaced.”
Public health guidance from the province says all workers in long-term care settings providing direct care or visiting clients must wear face masks. SEIU has advocated for front-line workers to also have access to N95 respirators.
A written declaration from the union’s chief steward at the facility said workers were provided with almost no information about infections — and were critically understaffed.
“It is impossible to ‘flatten the curve’ at Eatonville when some staff and 50 per cent of the resident population is infected but we are not told who,” the declaration says.
Similar circumstances were described by workers at Anson Place and Altamont nursing homes.
A written declaration from Amanda Weaver said she is one of 35 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Anson, adding that the facility is now often operating with half the normal complement of PSWs and nurses.
“In my opinion, the most serious issue facing Anson Place at present is the deficiency in staff,” her declaration says.
Weaver said she participated in two phone calls with Ministry of Labour inspectors following staff complaints about health and safety issues and their employers “lack of transparency with respect to notifying staff about infections.”
Weaver said she was not aware of any safety orders being issued to Anson Place by the ministry.
“I am worried the situation has become worse since I went off work,” she said.
At Altamont, email communication between worker reps and management show mounting frustration over what the labour board application calls the “delayed and haphazard” application of masking directives.
“As of Friday, Sienna has implemented a surgical mask requirement at all locations,” says an April 6 email from the company’s head of labour relations Jeffrey Wood.
“The only caveat would be if the Community does not have the adequate stock.”
By that time, “Altamont had already been in a declared outbreak for 10 days,” the SEIU application says.
The tragedy came to a head in mid-April when a PSW at the facility became the first health-care worker in the province to die from the virus.
“The employer does not tell us about the staff members who tested positive for reasons of confidentiality. We have to guess based on who is absent. We cannot really know if we have come into contact with an infected colleague,” says the written declaration from Ellington.
“On April 16, 2020 I found out my co-worker and fellow PSW Christine Mandegarian had died from COVID-19 infection,” it says.
“She had worked the night shift for years, and when staff came in for the day shift to take over her assignments she would always go above and beyond to help us and residents,” the declaration added.
“She was a delight to work with.”