IF DOUG FORD IS “TAKING BULLETS” IT’S NOT OUR FAULT, SAYS SMOKEY THOMAS. The Ontario premier has said otherwise.
“I’ve been taking bullets for the union every day up here,” Ford said at his daily COVID-19 briefing on May 28. “They were doing telephone calls for inspections. The truth of the matter is, they were refusing to go into these homes.”
None of this is remotely true says OPSEU (Ontario Public Service Employees Union) president Smokey Thomas. It was government managers who ordered inspectors not to go into the homes.
Thomas said bureaucrats — not the union — had told inspectors not to enter the infected homes. Not a single inspector refused to work, and 60 of 164 inspectors volunteered to go into hard-hit facilities.
Thomas accused “ministerial managers” in the health and long-term care ministries of “purposefully misleading the premier to cover up their own incompetence.” He also said the union wanted to ensure workers had adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) before they went in.
Helped Ford dodge a bullet
Thomas says managers showed a reckless disregard for worker and resident safety. He said managers told inspectors: “Just go up to the home, knock on the door and ask for a mask. Back in April they didn’t have masks!”
Going from home to home without proper personal protective equipment would only have made things much, much worse for the inspectors, workers in the home and the residents, says Thomas.
“The premier says he is tired of taking bullets for the union, but in this case, our union helped him dodge one.”
Ford did not offer any evidence to backup his claims about the union. He offered no evidence of when inspectors may have allegedly stopped entering the homes; no evidence on which facilities may have gone without in-person inspections; and no evidence on how long that went on.
Ontario’s long-term care homes have been ravaged by COVID-19. The virus disproportionately kills elderly patients and those with pre-existing conditions, a vulnerability that was worsened in the homes by long-standing problems with underfunding and low staffing levels.
Ford called for military assistance in five of the province’s hardest-hit homes. A May 26 report on the gross lack of adequate care they found prompted Ford to launch a formal investigation.
Ford said the military report was “the most heart-wrenching report I have ever read in my entire life. Until yesterday morning, we didn’t know the full extent of what these homes, what these residents, were dealing with.”
If he didn’t know, he should have.
OPSEU sent Ford a letter on April 22 to alert him to the conditions the military wrote about over a month later.
The OPSEU April letter is only the most recent in a campaign going back more than 20 years by the union and other advocates for a complete overhaul of the long-term care system in Ontario. A campaign that included the Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry by Ford’s own government less than a year ago!
The OPSEU letter to Ford states what should be obvious: “Senior ministry staff have also stated inspectors need to physically see if residents are being treated properly. We already know they are not.
“Senior bureaucrats know it, too. The homes need more staff and equipment. Risking the health of residents and inspectors has zero value right now.”
The OPSEU letter also says: “The real problem is that there are only 164 inspectors to cover some 626 long-term care homes. Inadequate staffing is yet another area where ministry managers have failed to give the Premier and the Minister of Long Term Care the real facts. We have consistently pointed out that shortcoming as well."
OPSEU welcomes inquiry
OPSEU says Ford can continue to “listen to this dreadful gang of blundering, incompetent and dishonest ministerial managers” or he can listen to the many voices who have, like OPSEU, the desire, understanding and energy to move forward to tear down a ramshackle and rotten system of long-term care and replace it with one worthy of our old people and our sense of who we Canadians really are.
“If the premier is interested in the truth and solutions, OPSEU is ready to meet with him anytime,” says Thomas.
“In fact, I look forward to further shining a light on this travesty as a witness at the upcoming inquiry.
“A lot of players aren’t going to like what I have to say.”
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