News / Toronto

NDP want public inquiry to look at long-term care quality, staff levels, funding

TORONTO — Ontario's New Democrats say they want to expand the scope of a public inquiry into safety and security in the province's long-term care homes.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the party has introduced a private member's bill that will ask the government to broaden its approach while reviewing the system. In August, the province launched a public inquiry into the policies, procedures and oversight of long-term care homes.

The NDP bill would require the inquiry to expand its focus to include quality of care, staffing levels and government funding of long-term care homes if passed by the legislature.

"This is about dignity," Horwath said. "Seniors are being left without the help they need to take care of their basic hygiene needs or help to get to the bathroom on time. This is all occurring because of severe understaffing in long-term care." 

The public inquiry will focus on systemic issues that may have contributed to the assault and deaths of residents under the care of nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer. Wettlaufer, 50, was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault in connection to the deaths of residents under her care in three southwestern Ontario nursing homes.

Horwath agrees the inquiry must look into the circumstances surrounding Wettlaufer's crimes, but is concerned that if it is not expanded it will not address the needs of the province's 78,000 long-term care residents.

"There are a number of systemic issues that exist in long-term care that we don't think this inquiry is broad enough to look into," she said. "That's why we're saying do the right thing here, broaden this inquiry, open it up and make sure you're taking a hard, honest look at what's happening out there.

Horwath made the announcement surrounded by families pushing for the expanded public inquiry. Toronto resident Tammy Carbino's father, James Acker, was attacked and seriously injured by another resident in their long-term care home in January. He died in April.

Carbino said an expanded inquiry would bring many of the problems to the public's attention and spur the government to act.

"There are so many different levels that need fixing," she said. "It's frustrating because the families know what they are and we're not being heard."

Health Minister Eric Hoskins defended the inquiry's scope. Led by Justice Eileen Gillese, it will have a broader scope than a police investigation or prosecution, he said.

"It will not only look into what occurred, but also look for any underlying issues that need to be addressed to ensure that the objectives of the Long-Term Care Homes Act were and are being met and will make recommendations as to how to address them," Hoskins said. 

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