Ontario’s ombudsman has launched an investigation into the province’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care homes.
The investigation, which will be led by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé, will focus on whether there was adequate oversight of long-term care homes by both the province’s Ministry of Long-Term Care and Ministry of Health.
In a news release issued Monday, the office of Ontario’s ombudsman confirmed that Dubé did not receive any complaints but decided to invoke his authority in light of the “grave concerns” raised about the state of long-term care in the province as well as the damning military report that was released last week.
The Canadian Armed Forces report outlined disturbing incidents of patient neglect and poor infection control protocols at five long-term care homes hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Operations at four of the five facilities have now been taken over by the province following the release of the military report.
“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,” Dubé said in a written statement.
“Determining the root causes of administrative dysfunction and recommending practical solutions is what we do.”
Investigators with the Dubé’s office will review the standards and policies of the ministries involved as well as what oversight mechanisms were in place to “ensure compliance.”
“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.”
The Ministry of Long-Term Care has confirmed that seven staff members and 1,648 patients in long-term care facilities have died after contracting the respiratory illness.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been a total of more than 300 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes in the province.
Both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Long-Term Care were given notice of the ombudsman investigation today.
The ombudsman’s office says there is “no set timeframe” for the investigation as most public servants are working remotely but investigators will work “as efficiently as circumstances permit.”
“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.”