There are moments that happen, events that take place, that change the course of things. These moments are so striking, so stark, that strikes such a nerve that it makes it impossible for things to continue as is. In Canada there are some that come to mind right away. Walkerton and Ipperwash are both synonymous with such events that happened in their communities. Attacks like 9/11 also would fall into that category. And the current Covid-19 global pandemic is surely another.

These are all watershed events that shake our common consciousness, focus our minds, and leave us with details that we are simply unable to ignore. Today I believe we’ve had another such moment, with the news of a report regarding some long-term care homes from the Canadian Forces. This is a report that speaks loudly for itself:

The news is tragic, stomach churning and appalling. The details that we’re seeing in the various media reports on the treatment of patients in these long-term care homes are beyond shocking. Those details reported by Canadian Forces include the following:

  • Members deployed to long-term care homes saw cockroaches, flies, rotten food, and residents left in dirty diapers or going unbathed for weeks
  • Members found no rules, a lack of staff training and medical equipment and instances of staff reusing syringes on seniors
  • Staff at a Brampton nursing home allegedly recorded a Taylor Swift Dance Video showing them dancing through the facility, passing between areas deemed COVID-19 positive and negative without wearing any protective equipment
  • In Etobicoke, residents who tested positive for COVID-19 shared rooms with uninfected residents, separated only by a curtain
  • Reusing supplies like a catheter even if sterility is compromised (catheter pulled out and on floor for undetermined amount of time)
  • A dozen incidents of bleeding fungal infections i.e. very poor peri-catheterization care
  • Expired medication, much of ward stock months out of date
  • Covid 19 patients allowed to wander
  • Aggressive behaviour to residents (when changing incontinence product, not stopping or slowing when resident complains of pain)
  • Patients observed crying for help with staff not responding for 30 minutes to over 2 hours

Horrific, that is simply horrific. We Canadians are proud of our healthcare system and don’t miss a chance as holding it up as a national accomplishment that speaks to not only what we can do, but what matters to us. But yet within that system we have a long-term health care system that beyond broken, to the point where it takes a report like this to snap us into reality.

It’s not lost on me that it was the Canadian Forces that found this out and blew the whistle on these terrible conditions. It makes everyone wonder how governments in Ontario haven’t acted before this. Remember it was the Ford government that reduced the inspections of long-term care homes when they came into power, ensuring that only 9 of 626 homes in Ontario actually received resident quality inspections in 2019. That is a part of this problem and but it’s not alone. Unions working in this space like SEIU were ringing the alarm bells back in October about conditions in these homes, but those warnings went ignore then too.

But in all fairness to the Ford government, this issue is longer standing. It didn’t start with him and it’s been a problem for decades. So while Ford does bare the blame for his inaction during his 18 months in government pre-Covid-19 and needs to fix it now, but he doesn’t bare all the blame. All of Ontario’s political parties bare this blame. And further to that other provinces have problems too with this sector. Quebec is also having these issues and as Radio-Canada’s “Infoman” pointed out a while ago, it’s a long-standing problem there too:

Yep, all parties own this and all parties owe solutions. In the House of Commons today in a question to the Prime Minister, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer suggested that another Canadian Forces report on Quebec was in the works, which means we’re likely to hear more awful details to come. But again, I have to come back to the fact that it was CF members that had to point this out. It not only speaks poorly to the monitoring of these homes, but also a failure of our whistleblower laws in this country that no one else had spoken out before this. As one person I follow on Twitter put it, “not every whistleblower gets to carry a gun and have the might of a military behind them.” He’s right by the way. The fact is that Canadian Forces member not only had a duty to report this, but they knew that they would not be fired if they did. They knew they would not face reprisals from their employers or others if they rang the alarm. That is another strike against our current system that should be explored when this is investigated.

Going forward it now falls on governments to full investigate and get to the bottom of problems in this system. After today’s news, Ontario clearly needs a full public inquiry and the independent commission that Premier Ford has put forward won’t cut it. That inquiry needs judicial and legal independence, the same kind of independence those CF members had to blow the whistle, and an independent commission set up won’t do that. That will be for Queen’s Park to deal with and I’m sure we’ll see the same in the National Assembly in Quebec City too.

For its part, the House of Commons needs to act on this front too. While those homes are provincial jurisdictions, federal transfers pay for a lot of it and they clearly fall within the purview of the Canada Health Act. The response will need to be a collaboration between Ottawa and the provinces, but the pressure for Ottawa to act will be too strong to resist. Furthermore, only Ottawa has the financial resources to help fix this problem once and for all.

Today feels like a true watershed moment and even I, who is usually cynical in moments like these, cannot help but feel this is different this time. I cannot picture the status quo going forward after this, not only because of the colossal failure of the system in this case but because the details of it will be seared into the collective minds of so many Canadians. Our seniors deserve much better than this and things cannot continue as they are. I don’t have the full solution to offer right now, but now is the time to have that discussion and figure it out. We’re not going back to normal in long-term care after this and now’s the time to figure out what that new normal will be.