Doug Ford slammed over delay of measure that protects nursing home residents from COVID-19 by limiting where staff can work

Premier Doug Ford is letting vulnerable seniors down by delaying a new measure restricting long-term-care staff to working in just one nursing home to slow the spread of COVID-19, New Democrats say.

An emergency order made public Wednesday states the rule aimed at reducing the fast-rising number of outbreaks and deaths won’t take effect for another seven days and will be in place for just two weeks.

Ford spoke with urgency about the need for the move to help “fortify the iron ring of protection” around nursing home residents, but that’s not apparent from the time lag, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

“We cannot waste a second now,” she said in a statement released after the premier promised an “all-out plan” that includes “COVID-19 swat teams” from hospitals being sent to hard-hit nursing homes to help control infections and take care of residents.

“Restrictions much tighter than these should have been put in place weeks ago,” Horwath added, raising a concern that nursing-home workers from temp agencies will be exempt in a “giant loophole.”

Staff affected by the restriction include nurses, personal support workers, kitchen and cleaning workers. The NDP and Registered Nurses Association of Ontario are among the organizations that have long called for limiting the number of homes at which health workers can be employed to lower the odds of outbreaks jumping from one facility to another.

Long-term Care Minister Merrillee Fullerton, a former doctor, maintained the government has “acted swiftly and decisively” in recent weeks to restrict visitors to nursing homes, improve screening of staff and boost cleaning protocols.

There were no details, however, on the number of teams being sent to an unknown number of nursing homes in need of assistance.

“It’s already happening in some areas where the local hospitals have rallied,” said Fullerton, who could not provide examples.

The government promised more screening and testing for the new coronavirus in nursing homes.

There have been at least 144 deaths of residents in Ontario nursing homes — about 40 per cent of the official provincial tally — with more than 100 facilities reporting outbreaks and almost 500 staff testing positive for the virus.

The Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, for example, has lost half its residents to COVID-19.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association has taken to Twitter in recent days issuing pleas to health-care students and others to step forward to help take care of the more than 70,000 residents in 626 nursing homes across the province.

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Rob Ferguson