Inspectors warned of dehydration and malnutrition at a Toronto long-term care home in spring 2020
TORONTO -- Inspectors with the Ministry of Long-Term Care highlighted concerns of dehydration and malnutrition at Downsview Long Term Care home as far back as June 2020, raising fresh questions about when the provincial government was made aware of the apparent neglect in the nursing home.
The conditions at the Downsview facility during the first wave of the pandemic have been under the spotlight after the Canadian Armed Forced reported that 26 residents had died in the home due to dehydration and lack of care.
While the minister of long-term care said the government is “actively working” with the Ontario Coroner to “verify” the account from the Canadian Armed Forces, ministry inspectors detailed complaints of neglect during multiple visits to the home in May 2020.
At that time, 83 residents at the home had tested positive with COVID-19, of which 40 residents had already succumbed to the virus.
During interviews with several doctors from Humber River Hospital --which was tasked with supporting the nursing home – inspectors discovered “concerns related to nutrition and hydration … that posed a safety risk to residents.”
“They observed concerns related to nutrition and hydration, specifically that residents were not being fed appropriately, or receiving sufficient fluids,” an inspection report dated June 4, 2020 said.
Two doctors told inspectors they “observed signs of dehydration in residents during their assessments” while a staff member inside the home noted that “resident care declined after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared in the home due to critical staffing shortages.”
Some residents required hypodermoclysis, a technique used to rehydrate elderly people, but the report notes that their “their fluid administration bags were empty.”
While the report doesn’t mention whether residents deaths were directly related to nutrition or hydration issues, the inspectors noted that a complaint with the Ministry of Long-Term Care highlighting concerns with resident care had been filed.
A year later, Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the government is still working to determine exactly what went on inside the home, and whether residents died due to neglect, rather than COVID-19.
“We've got inspectors in that home right now to understand and interview, staff and medical directors working with the coroner's office reports to understand and put this together,” Fullerton told reporters on Friday.
Fullerton's office later said in a statement that the minister had no knowledge of the 26 deaths "allegedly due to dehydration" until they were outlined in the long-term care commission's report.
"This information was not separately reported to the Ministry or Minister’s Office by the Canadian Armed Forces, nor through testimony or documents posted by the Commission, nor by the home where the deaths were noted as having occurred, nor through the course of robust inspections of these homes," Fullerton's office said in a statement.
"The Coroner’s Office is engaged and will be providing the ministry with their documents about deaths in the homes. Once those documents have been received, the Ministry will be acting on them.”
Fullerton also claimed that the inspection in the long-term care home was triggered by Premier Doug Ford, who promised to investigate the reports of neglect highlighted by the military in the Spring of 2020.
The inspection completed at that time, however, was conducted as a result of a complaint.