November 30, 2023

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COVID-19 inquiry sidestepped by Sylvia Jones

Ontario’s Health Minister appears to be sidestepping calls for a national inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes, telling reporters that her government is already acting to ensure the sector is “prepared for whatever happens in the future.”

Experts from 13 organizations, including doctors, nurses and researchers, recently penned a series of essays in the British Medical Journal taking aim at Canada’s response to the pandemic.

The experts argued that an inquiry is needed to ensure “accountability for losses,” specifically when it comes to the tens of thousands of deaths in long-term care homes.

But asked about the idea during an unrelated photo-op on Tuesday, Ontario’s Health Minister Sylvia Jones refused to say whether she would support such an inquiry.

“As I said we have made the commitments. We are making the changes now, we are seeing those changes through with partnerships with long-term care homes and hospitals and expansions, unprecedented expansions of long-term care facilities,” she said. “The investments that we have made expanding long-term care homes, making sure they are appropriate homes, that we don’t have four-bed rooms anymore really speaks to our commitment to making sure our long-term care homes are prepared for whatever happens in future.”

The authors of the series did make note of Canada’s successful vaccination campaign, with more than 80 per cent of residents receiving at least two doses, but they called the number of deaths in long-term care homes a “particular disgrace” given the “more than 100 reports foreshadowing a nursing home crisis.”

Speaking with reporters, Jones said that Ontario’s nursing homes had been “neglected and ignored by previous governments,” something that became apparent with the onset of the pandemic.

However, she said that her government has worked to change that.

“We have made those investments. Even throughout the pandemic having hospitals, having community paramedics work with our long-term care facilities was really an acknowledgement that we wanted to deal with this directly and as a community,” she said.

Premier Doug Ford was also asked about the possibility of an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday but did not directly answer the question, only saying that “everyone went through challenging times” during the pandemic.