Dozens of Ontario nursing home deaths were from dehydration, neglect — not COVID, military says

Dozens of Ontario nursing home deaths were from dehydration, neglect — not COVID, military says
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The Canadian military is claiming in a report that dozens of deaths at a pair of hard hit long-term care homes in Ontario were not from COVID-19, but from dehydration and neglect.

According to documents obtained by the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Armed Forces found that poor living conditions, while COVID-19 was rapidly spreading and staff shortages grew, led to a number of deaths in two Toronto homes.

One home, Downsview Long Term Care Centre, saw one in four residents have deaths attributed to COVID-19; another 26 died from dehydration before military teams arrived to provide assistance in June. Another, Hawthorne Place Care Centre, had 51 of its 269-bed facility succumb to COVID-19. The documents from the Globe showed that the military suspected those numbers were small in comparison to deaths from other causes.

Responding to the Globe in an email, a spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said that the claims of dehydration-related fatalities was “not only troubling but potentially criminal.”

The reports written by the Canadian Forces are still not available publicly, but have been submitted to an independent commission currently examining the impact of COVID-19 on those living in long-term care. The commission, which is being led by retired associate chief justice Frank Marrocco, was highly critical of Premier Doug Ford's government response in a report it released on April 30.

By the time the military was called in for reinforcement, COVID-19 had already been rampaging through long-term care facilities in the province. The commission's report featured a quote, written on April 17, 2020, from Minister Fullerton's notebook that read: “Military plan needed, get them in within 24–48 hours... homes spiral down quickly.”

Premier Ford eventually deployed the military, with help arriving at Hawthorne Place 12 days later, and at Downsview Long Term Care Centre in the early days of June.

“This delay — like others before it — was tragic for those trapped in homes with uncontrolled outbreaks,” the commission said.

The military showed a great deal of concern with the delay in its arrival at Downsview. It made note that “26 residents died due to dehydration prior to the arrival of the CAF team due to the lack of staff to care for them.”

“They died when all they need was 'water and a wipe down',” the report said.

James Balcom, the top executive at GEM Health Care Group, which owns the Downsview long-term care home, told the Globe that the company was begging for extra provincial support with staffing at the home in late April.

Meanwhile, at Hawthorne Place, the military said that residents had died because of a lack of nourishment combined with dehydration.

The Armed Forces outlined the tragic living conditions of residents there, saying that they found “feces and vomit” on floors and walls, as well as two residents with dried feces under their fingernails. Management at the home, the military said, was “non-existent.”

Nicola Major, a spokeswoman for the home's management company, Responsive Group Inc., contradicted the military's report.

Also responding to the Globe by email, Major claimed that management was present at all times, and that none of the issues raised by the Canadian Armed Forces were brought to their attention. None of the death certificates, she said, cited neglect, dehydration or malnutrition as a cause of death.

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