Canadian troops deployed to long-term care homes overwhelmed by coronavirus outbreaks found neglected and malnourished residents, rotten food and insect infestations, and a blatant disregard for critical safety protocol, according to a bombshell report from the country’s armed forces.
Military medics were dispatched to long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario in late April, with aim of blunting Covid-19 outbreaks among vulnerable populations.
Soldiers deployed to five of Ontario’s worst-hit care homes encountered rotten food, cockroaches and residents in soiled diapers, according to the report published on Tuesday.
At one facility, residents had not been bathed in weeks. At another, staff made “derogatory or inappropriate comments directed at residents’”. Neglect of resident hygiene and health, often leading to infection, was documented at all facilities.
At one point, “patients [were] observed crying for help with staff not responding for 30 mins to over two hours,” the report said.
Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, said: “On reading the deeply disturbing report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief.
“It is extremely troubling, and as I’ve said from the very beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country, through this pandemic and beyond.”
Long-term care homes in Canada, many of which are privately run, have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with residents making up nearly eight out of 10 Covid-19-related deaths across the country.
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The damage has been felt most acutely in Ontario and Quebec, which have the vast majority of the country’s coronavirus cases and fatalities.
An estimated 225 people died at the five homes where the military was assisting in Ontario.
The report chronicled widespread “burnout” among staff, a number of whom hadn’t seen family in weeks. The military also found numerous examples of staff showing little knowledge of how to properly wear personal protective equipment when dealing with coronavirus cases.
As his government released the report to the public on Tuesday, an emotional Ontario premier, Doug Ford, called the findings “gut-wrenching” and “shocking”.
“Reading these reports was the hardest thing I’ve done as premier,” said Ford. “What we’re feeling is little compared to the hardship these residents and their families have had to ensure. There’s nothing worse than feeling helpless when it comes to caring for a loved one.”
Ford’s mother-in-law, who lives in a long-term care home, was recently diagnosed with Covid-19.
Ford said investigations have been launched following the report, saying his government would pursue “accountability” and “justice”. One death has been referred to the coroner for investigation into possible criminal charges.
Meanwhile, the Canadian military said today that some 36 members working in long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec have become sick with Covid-19.
“This tragedy must serve as a wakeup call to our entire country,” said Ford. “It’s no secret that Covid-19 has taken a system with deep problems – a system that has been neglected for years – and pushed it to the brink.”