With the second wave of COVID-19 upon us, the minister is hoping to avoid a repeat of the scandals we saw last spring, when the military was called in to assist and about 1,500 residents died from the coronavirus. Ontario's Minister for Long-term Care, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, says the provincial government is moving to improve conditions, but -- realistically -- she acknowledges it will take years to train tens of thousandsd of new staff and it will cost billions of dollars to pay for them.

"We have a very good plan to get to this goal of four hours of direct patient care on average per resident, with hands-on care being provided with personal support workers and nurses, and we are setting hard targets," she said yesterday, during her interview with Q104 and KenoraOnline.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced he would be providing four hours a day of direct patient care, but yesterday the minister acknowledged they simply didn't have enough staff to make this happen.

In her phone interview, Fullerton said she's working with colleges and universities, in an effort to get enough new personal support workers and nurses trained, in order to meet the goal. She added the new staffing was being trained, so they could be added as quickly as possible.

"If we could get this done tomorrow, it would be done. A reality is we're in a staffing crisis that has been many years smoldering," she said.

In the interview, the minister also acknowledged the previous government had promised these things, but the previous government wasn't able to meet their goal.

Kevin Queen at the Kenora District Homes for the Aged has been part of a study into staffing shortages at long-term care homes across the province. It began last February, before the coronavirus outbreak, and authors of the study said the pandemic has only made the staffing situation worse in Ontario. The study found 60 per cent of staff in long-term care homes are personal support workers, and 40 per cent of the PSW's left within a year of graduating from their program. 

Opposition leader Andrea Horwath of the NDP has pledged to get rid of for-profit long-term care, and replace institutions with smaller family-like homes. She has also pledged to get rid of the waiting list of 38,000 names.

The Canadian Medial Association Journal reported the results of a study in August, which included all 623 Ontario long-term care homes, comprising 75,676 residents. Of those 623 homes, 360 (58 per cent) were for profit, 162 (26 per cent) were non-profit, and 101 (16 per cent) were municipal homes.

Of these homes, there were 190 (31 per cent) of outbreaks of COVID-19 were in long-term care homes. These outbreaks involved 5,218 residents, and they resulted in 1,452 deaths, with an overall case fatality rate of just under 28 per cent.

For more information:

Province Increasing Direct Care for Long-Term Care Residents to Four Hours per Day

NDP - Aging Ontarians deserve the best

CMAJ - For-profit long-term care homes and the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and resident deaths

It's not an easy time, minister