Covid and Seniors’ Homes: What Happened?

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By Jim Bertram

As everyone who has not been asleep for the last five months knows, Covid-19 has become a part of our vocabulary. This exceptionally dangerous, and heretofore unknown, illness struck hard and fast, catching government and health officials in an emergency situation which was new, dangerous and fast moving. Over time, earlier decisions have been changed in keeping with rapidly growing, but still incomplete, knowledge of what the scope of this challenge ultimately would turn out to be. We’re still learning. At least, some of us are.

Over that time, many Canadians and people throughout the world have unfortunately lost their lives to Covid-19. Statistics have shown that elderly people, especially those with certain pre-existing health challenges, have been hit the hardest. Some, but not all, communities with high concentrations of elderly people have suffered grievously. For example, in a Radio-Canada (CBC) report which I found in mid-April, the following illustrative comment was made: “At the publicly owned CHSLD Sainte-Dorothée in Laval, Radio-Canada learned 55 people have died since March 17, a number eight times that of the home’s usual monthly death rate.” Such results have, however, not been uniform and found in all areas. Citizens and their governments have reacted quickly to this in some parts of the country.

In Quebec, for example, where I have been able to find more pertinent information, “…Quebec’s chief coroner has ordered a public inquiry into the hundreds of deaths that took place in the province’s long-term care centres (CHSLDs), private nursing homes and other care centres during the COVID-19 outbreak…” .In the United States, researchers in the area of Covid and seniors’ residences have had difficulty so far in establishing clear and universal indicators of what has gone wrong.

For example, “…David Grabowski, a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School, found no evidence that quality ratings matter when it comes to COVID-19. He looked at nursing homes across 30 states. “In terms of your five-star status, in terms of your staffing, in terms of whether you’d had a prior infection control violation, we couldn’t find any kind of measure of facility quality that was correlated with having a COVID case,” said Grabowski.”

Tamara Konetzka , a health economist and professor at the University of Chicago, has also looked at the quality of nursing homes and coronavirus. Like Grabowski, she found no correlation between quality ratings and COVID-19 cases: “Even the highest quality nursing homes were caught completely off guard,” said Konetzka when interviewed. Without going through all the reports available, many researchers do conclude that, in spite of there still being much to learn about Covids’s swathe of destruction, lawmakers should begin by focussing on low quality nursing homes and inadequate nurse staffing, which is something that many nursing homes, perhaps, can’t or won’t fix on their own. Much remains to be done in research and policy formulation. In terms of Ontario, I would like to see more information from our own researchers and provincial government as to what is being done to find out what has gone wrong in some cases. Bear in mind that not all seniors’ residences had bad or disastrous results. Our local residences for the elderly have, to my knowledge, not suffered any losses.

I would recommend that the government of Ontario be measured and serious in their approach to this problem, taking advantage of many good examples of research on this topic from outside the province as well. Above all, please don’t react in the way some, who attribute all blame to privately-run homes, have done. Mr. Ford, we want real research, not half-baked ideology driven reactions such as I have seen already from two writers in this paper. As indicated earlier, the problem is not just a challenge afflicting private businesses. Profit is at the core of so many enterprises in this country which produce your groceries, hardware products, furniture, electronic equipment, and the list goes on. They do a good job as they add to the quality of our lives on a daily basis. We need to make sure that WHOEVER is providing service to the residents of homes for the elderly does as good a job as those other enterprises in our society. Let’s ask Mr. Ford to get complete, fair, and non-politicized information about that out to us soon. Hopefully, people will be looking for real answers, and not just those that suit their political playbook.

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