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Ontario's ombudsman investigating Ford government's handling of long-term care crisis
TORONTO -- Ontario's ombudsman is launching an investigation into the provincial government's handling of the long-term care crisis, and whether the oversight was "adequate" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement issued on Monday, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube said he's invoking his authority to investigate the issue "in light of the grave concerns" raised in a "shocking" report from the Canadian Armed Forces into neglect and abuse at five long-term care homes.
Among the claims outlined in the military report issued Tuesday included bug infestations, incidents of force-feeding leading to "audible choking," and patients who were heard “crying for help with staff not responding.”
“The Canadian Armed Forces report painted a stunning portrait of the situation in long-term care during this crisis," Dube said in a news release. "Our investigation will look at the systemic issues that led to it, and will make constructive recommendations for corrective action.”
Premier Doug Ford was asked Monday if he thought that the investigation was a result of his government “dropping the ball” on COVID-19 in Ontario long-term care homes to which he said he “welcomed” the inquiry.
"I need answers. I want answers and we need to get this fixed and we are going to get this fixed,” Ford said.
Earlier this month, The Ontario government announced plans to launch an independent commission to examine the province's long-term care homes and the circumstances that led to the deaths of more than 1,400 seniors during the COVID-19 crisis.
However, many critics have since called for a public inquiry into the matter, chief among them Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath.
In a news release issued Monday, the NDP Leader said that she found the CAF report “heartbreaking” and “infuriating” and said that she supported the ombudsman’s inquiry while pushing for even greater transparency from the government.
“While we’re hopeful this report can provide some answers and accountability, the Official Opposition believes a comprehensive, find-and-fix judicial public inquiry is necessary to evaluate the very foundations of the long-term care system in Ontario.”
Dube is sending investigators from the Special Ombudsman Response Team to review the Ministry of Long-Term Care's policies during the pandemic, as well as the government's oversight into the sector to ensure homes were following the province's pandemic-related directives.
The probe will look into the handling of complaints, inspections carried out by the ministry, emergency planning, collection of COVID-19 case data, support of long-term care homes, rates of infection and death in long-term care and communication with residents, staff and the public.
The ombudsman says given the challenges of the current situation, there is no time frame for the investigation.