SUDBURY -- Sudbury MPP Jamie West led a town hall Tuesday night, focusing on some of the most pressing issues facing long-term care homes, especially those in the north.

"What we heard is the same things we've been hearing for a long time, whether it be with the previous liberal government or the conservative government, that long-term care has been failing over time," said West.

"The privatization is really taking the money out of getting right to the clients, and going into profit, and that we're having a real issue with staffing issue and in particular with personal support workers."

West was joined by NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong, the party's critic for home care and long-term care. They were joined by Maria Casas, a local member of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Terry Martyn, the co-chair of the family council for Pioneer Manor.

Martyn, whose wife resides in Pioneer Manor, was representing family members who also have loved ones in long-term care. For him, the issue of staffing shortages ranks amongst the most concerning.

"Our main issue is the shortage of staff, particularly PSW's in long-term care homes," he said. "We need specific details about how staffing will be improved in long-term care."

Martyn hopes those details will come as part of Wednesday's government commission report into the issues long-term care homes across the province faced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second COVID-19 spike

"With COVID, we saw the effects of staff shortages in long-term care homes so there's no doubt that if we strengthened the number of staff in long-term care homes that the care that residents are supposed to be provided with will take place," said Martyn. "Otherwise, we're still going to be in the same problem and if there's a second spike of the virus, we're going to go back to what we had before and we don't want that."

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, was represented at West's town-hall by local member Maria Casas. While originally supportive of a commission, Grinspun said it's no longer necessary.

"We don't need the commission because we know everything that needs to improve in long-term care and we do not have time to even waste a single second," Grinspun said.

Grinspun said while the number of fatalities in long-term care homes during this pandemic are tragic, it's not surprising. She said it's critical to ensure staffing levels are adequate ahead of an expected second wave of COVID-19.

"If we don't start to immediately hire, we are going to have a terrible situation come the fall in nursing homes, as we predicted on the first wave, when we said that we need to hire people."

A few weeks ago, the RNAO released a report, entitled Nursing Home Basic Care Guarantee, which calls to immediately implement four hours of nursing and personal support care every day.

The town hall also heard calls to permit family caregivers inside homes, regardless of an outbreak being declared. The issue of loneliness and isolation is pressing, Martyn said.

Face-to-face contact

"It's important for that face-to-face contact and for that emotional support," he said. "Some of these people would also provide feeding to residents, as well and other aspects of care."

West said fellow NDP MPP Laura Mae-Lindo has tabled a private members bill on the issue, something that he said he would support.

"A lot of families afterwards now that they've released those restrictions and are able to visit, have noticed that their family members have deteriorated over time," said West. "So we really have to have a strong family advocate and ways that these essential caregivers can stay together and stay in touch with their family members."

While a commission into the issue has been announced, West said that he has concerns over its transparency and effectiveness. 

"The devil will be in the details," said West. "If in a year from now that commission is sitting on a shelf doing nothing and people are still saying there's problems in long-term care, that will be the legacy of this government."