Cathy Fooks, the Patient Ombudsman for Ontario, has published a new report that states whistleblower complaints from workers at long-term care homes have risen during the pandemic, according to an October 8 CBC News article. The report also includes recommendations to the provincial government, one of which centers around strengthening whistleblower protections.
“Complaints about long-term care homes shot up by over 370 percent from March 1 to June 30,” according to the report, which was published on October 8. The ombudsman’s office stated in the report that “it has received a number of complaints from whistleblowers about the safety of residents and staff, pointing to a crisis in the province’s long-term care homes during the pandemic,” according to CBC News.
As of October 13, there are 157 confirmed active cases of positive residents in long-term care homes, with 210 confirmed active cases of positive staff members, based on the Ontario government website. The website also reports that 1,891 long-term care home residents have passed away from COVID-19, as well as 8 staff members whose deaths were “associated with” long-term care homes.
“Based on what the Patient Ombudsman heard, in the rush to shield our health-care system from COVID-19, patients, and their families were in many instances set adrift, left to navigate shifting policies and public health responses alone without the knowledge, expertise or support to do so successfully,” Fooks wrote in the report. “Health-care providers were also left to develop their own approaches in line with public health directives and guidance, leading to a great deal of inconsistency and uncertainty in any particular situation.”
The most common issues the ombudsman heard were “issues around visitation, infection prevention, and control, quality of care and staffing,” according to CBC News. The report also details “several anonymous whistleblower complaints,” one in particular that described “a situation in a long-term care facility where COVID-19-positive staffers were forced to come to work and were working with, and taking swabs from, residents.”
The ombudsman’s suggestions for the provincial government are as follows:
- Backstops and contingency plans for all health-care providers. This includes every long-term care home having a partner organization to provide support for management, infection prevention and control, and staffing to prevent and respond to any COVID-19 outbreaks.
- Visitation changes. The ombudsman recommends the province not entirely restrict visitors but permits a limited number of essential caregivers to visit with infection control measures.
- Dedicated communication resources. The report states that communication between patients, residents, and families is essential, and so the province needs to ensure adequate resources for communication are possible.
- Enhanced whistleblower protections. The ombudsman is recommending that the government legislate whistleblower protections for health-care workers who bring forward concerns.
According to CBC News, the ombudsman will also conduct “a broader systemic investigation into long-term outbreaks,” findings from which are expected to be publicized in 2021.