Long Term Care Minister Merillee Fullarton defended herself today amid calls from NDP leader Andrea Horwath for her dismissal as minister. Asked by a reporter if she thought the government had let down Long Term Care residents, she replied “I think society has let them down. She added, “our government is the first in Canada to have a Ministry of Long-Term Care. We need society to understand the imperative of supporting the most vulnerable in our society—not only in LTC homes but also in the community.”
In fact the ministry was only formed in June 2019 and Fullarton was plucked from the relative safety of the Colleges and Universities portfolio to head the new ministry. As a 30-year medical doctor operating a family practice, she would have known the mess she was stepping into. There has been a chronic shortage of personal support workers for many years. The Long-Term Care Association highlighted the problem in a report that was released just before the pandemic hit. COVID has only exacerbated what was already a very bad situation.
The biggest problem is finding adequate staff to give the residents a decent level of care. Fully two-thirds of LTC residents have dementia, a similar number are incontinent. Most suffer from multiple additional health issues. Staff turnover is a constant problem owing to the harsh working conditions and the low wages. Front-line staff are mostly racialized and female. These conditions have persisted for many years. It’s going to take a lot of money to fix this.
Steven Del Duca the Liberal Leader, called the situation “unconscionable, “adding,“They are still searching for answers—they’ve had months to get it right.” A scroll through the Long Term Care Association website reveals numerous proposals to the Government of the day to improve LTC, that date back through the 15 years that Del Duca’s party had charge of the file.
Andrea Horwath, in calling for Fullarton’s head, said, “If I were minister today, I would be investing the money to hire thousands of PSWs and other staff, apparently oblivious to the fact that there are not thousands of PSWs waiting around to be hired. The industry is struggling to get new people to enter the field and at the same time seeing more and more PSWs abandoning it.
Horwath and Del Duca may think 18 months is more than enough time to deal with a deeply entrenched situation that dates back decades and is going to be a very difficult fix. They accuse the minister of offering talking points, but they offer little else themselves with their predictable and simplistic responses. The question that might fairly be asked is– who would you prefer to see handling the file—a 30-year medical professional and patient advocate or these two career politicians?