ONTARIO – Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé launched an investigation today (June 1) in to the oversight of long-term care homes by the province’s Ministry of Long-Term Care and Ministry of Health during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The investigation will focus on whether the oversight of long-term care homes by those ministries during the coronavirus crisis is adequate to ensure the safety of residents and staff.
Dubé said he is invoking his authority to investigate on his own initiative – without receiving complaints – in light of the grave concerns raised by COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes across the province, and the report last week by Canadian military personnel that revealed shocking conditions in five such homes.
“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis; our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action,” the Ombudsman said. “Determining the root causes of administrative dysfunction and recommending practical solutions is what we do.”
Although the Ministry of Health’s Patient Ombudsman handles complaints about the quality and functioning of long-tem care homes, and the Ministry of Long-Term Care’s Inspections Branch takes complaints about individual homes and whether they are in compliance with standards, the Ontario Ombudsman oversees both ministries, including these bodies.
Investigators with the Special Ombudsman Response Team, which handles the Ombudsman’s large-scale systemic investigations, will review the ministries’ standards and policies for long-term care homes during the pandemic, as well as the adequacy of oversight mechanisms to ensure compliance.
Among other things, they will look at complaint handling, inspections carried out by the Ministry of Long-Term Care, emergency planning, steps taken to support long-term care homes during the COVID-19 crisis, collection of data on coronavirus cases, rates of infection and deaths in long-term care, and communication with long-term care home residents, staff and the public.
“The pandemic has strained public services immensely, but also demonstrated how vital they are,” Dubé said. “Never has it been more important to ensure that these systems are working as they should. This is where we can help, as an independent, impartial expert in administrative systems. We are uniquely suited to investigate systemic governance issues and to propose solutions that enhance transparency, accountability, and fairness.”
Both ministries were given formal notice of the investigation today. There is no set time frame for the investigation, but given the challenges of the present situation, with most public servants working remotely, it will proceed as efficiently as circumstances permit, Dubé said.
“My entire office and I are also working remotely, and we recognize that these ministries in particular are facing significant challenges during this time,” Dubé said. “I am confident that our long expertise in working with public sector bodies to effect constructive change will benefit them and Ontarians in the long run.”
Anyone with information relevant to the issue of the ministries’ oversight of long-term care is asked to file a complaint online at www.ombudsman.on.ca. Complaints can also be made by email email@example.com.
(Please note: Complaints about individual long-term care homes should still be made to the Patient Ombudsman at www.patientombudsman.ca.)
Throughout the present provincial state of emergency, the Ombudsman’s office has continued to resolve complaints and work on investigations: Since beginning to work remotely on March 16, Ombudsman staff have handled more than 2,500 complaints – more than 630 of which were related to COVID-19 concerns.
The Ombudsman is an independent, impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature who resolves and investigates some 26,000 public complaints per year about provincial government bodies, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. He does not overturn decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman’s recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted by government, resulting in numerous reforms, including help for people with developmental disabilities who are in crisis, improved drug funding and newborn screening, and enhanced tracking of inmates in solitary confinement.