TORONTO -- More than 300 doctors and advocates have signed a letter calling on the Ford government to act now to address deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care homes across the province.

The letter, organized by Doctors for Justice in LTC, states that the group has “grave concerns” for the well-being of Ontarians in LTC homes.

The group is calling for the provincial government “to end the violations of people’s human rights” and control the spread of COVID-19 in these homes.

“We now have over 1,500 people that have died in long-term care from COVID-19 in the second wave alone. This week we’ve had about 171 deaths and we’re losing basically about one person per hour. One person per hour is dying of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities in Ontario so if this is not an emergency, what is?,” Dr. Amit Arya, palliative care physician specializing in long-term care, and co-founder of Doctors for Justice in LTC, told CP24.

Arya warned that LTC homes are in a “crisis situation” and that the government’s current response to the pandemic is “reactionary” at best.

He argued that “proactive implementation of policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are desperately needed.”

In the letter, the group outlined actions that the government should implement “immediately” to address COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care.

The nine objectives are:

  • Ending for-profit LTC homes
  • Hiring more qualified staff
  • A minimum pay standard for frontline LTC staff consistent with the hospital sector
  • Ensure 70 per cent of staff at each LTC home are full-time
  • Allow essential caregivers unrestricted entry into LTC homes with proper personal protective equipment
  • Establish partnerships between hospitals, primary care teams and all LTC homes
  • Keep hospital teams on standby
  • Call upon the military if required
  • Accelerate vaccination rollout to LTC homes

Arya stressed that for-profit LTC homes have a higher risk of people dying from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus due, in part, to staffing.

“One big problem that is associated with private ownership is staffing. So how these companies generate profit is by keeping their health workers poor. They’re more likely to have part-time casual workers, more likely to employ agency workers who are moving from home to home which absolutely should not be allowed at this stage of the pandemic,” he said.

One of the objectives outlined by the group is to bring in the military to assist LTC homes dealing with a significant outbreak.

However, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the military is not needed right now as there is a system in place to support these homes.

“We have now an association between hospitals and long-term care homes and hospitals are standing forward and helping the long-term care homes that are having problems both in terms of supplying staff as well as supplying PPE and whatever else they need,” Elliott said on Tuesday to reporters at Pearson airport.

“In certain circumstances, the Red Cross has also been involved. If we need to ask for the armed forces’ assistance we will do so but right now we have a system in place where the hospitals are supporting those long-term care homes,” she said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement on Tuesday saying her party supports the objectives laid out by Doctors for Justice in LTC.

She said “it’s time for an overhaul” of the LTC system to stop “terrible living conditions and preventable deaths.”

“The Ford government has dragged its heels and taken half-measures in long-term care. There are billions of dollars available to the government that are not being spent because Mr. Ford doesn’t want to spend it. He is refusing offers of military aid in long-term care homes struggling with horrible COVID-19 outbreaks. And he’s protected for-profit corporations — allowing them to put their bottom line ahead of the care and quality of life of seniors,” Horwath said.

On Tuesday, 35 more long-term care residents died from COVID-19, according to provincial health officials.

Since the pandemic began last March, 3,462 long-term care home residents have died from COVID-19, representing about 59 per cent of all virus-related deaths in Ontario.

There are currently 253 long-term care homes and 153 retirement homes with an active outbreak of the virus in the province.

The province has said that they plan to provide a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to all residents and staff at Ontario long-term care homes by February 5, 10 days earlier than initially planned.