TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s most populous province on Tuesday promised justice after soldiers helping manage the coronavirus outbreak in nursing homes saw staff leaving people in soiled diapers and ignoring calls for help.
Nursing homes account for around 80% of all deaths attributed to the new coronavirus in Canada. The situation is dire in Ontario and neighboring Quebec, where around 1,400 soldiers are working.
A report by the armed forces on five of the worst-affected Ontario homes revealed residents were left in soiled diapers, and patient rooms were filled with “significant fecal contamination,” cockroaches and ants.
At one point “patients (were) observed crying for help with staff not responding for 30 mins to over two hours,” it said.
“It’s heart wrenching, but there is going to be justice,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters, saying he was sure other homes had troubles too.
A full probe is underway and one death has been referred to the chief coroner for further investigation. Police could decide to lay criminal charges for neglect, he said.
Although the government knew the system of long-term care was “totally broken”, the scale of the problem remained hidden until now, Ford said. Critics were not convinced.
“Much of what the military found is NOT new … we have begged to improve staffing,” tweeted Doris Grinspun, head of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was shocked and angry, reiterating Canada needed to do a better job of caring for seniors. Quebec and Ontario want the soldiers to stay longer than planned, and Ottawa is likely to agree, Trudeau said.
Earlier this month, Trudeau referred to “heartbreaking tragedies” in the facilities, mentioning overworked employees and understaffed homes.
Official data showed the total coronavirus Canadian death toll had edged up by just under 2% to 6,566 from Monday.
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)