It’s been almost a year since a visibly upset Premier Doug Ford said there would be an “investigation” into the horrific conditions military medical teams found in a five Ontario nursing homes that were ravaged by COVID-19 — and the results would be “shared with police.”
Three scathing reports and 11 months later, critics are asking what happened to the premier’s promise “there will be accountability, there will be justice for these residents and their families.”
Almost 4,000 nursing home residents died from the highly contagious virus and more than 15,000 were infected. At least 26 were found dead from dehydration because there were not enough staff to get them water, according the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission report last Friday.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said Wednesday she is not aware of any provincial investigation, and the Ontario Provincial Police said the force is also “not aware” of any probe into what Ford himself called “disgusting” and “gut-wrenching” situations.
“We have not received any results or information on that particular investigation you’re referencing,” Jones replied when asked about the premier’s pledge in the wake of a Canadian Armed Forces report into the desperate conditions its medical teams found in several nursing homes.
The grim details included residents with “skin breakdown” because their diapers hadn’t been changed for days, being forcefully fed while lying down to the point of choking, being given expired medications and left crying for hours or days for help, sometimes without bed sheets.
“We launched a full investigation into these allegations. This includes an investigation by Ontario’s chief coroner. The results of these investigations will be shared with police to look into any possible criminal charges,” Ford told a news conference late last May.
The coroner was notified following a death at the Orchard Villa nursing home in Pickering. A government news release at the time also said Ministry of Long-Term Care inspectors would “immediately investigate critical incidents referred to in the (military) report” and mentioned what would eventually become the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said her party will be delivering reports from the Canadian Armed Forces, last Friday’s commission report and a report released last week by provincial auditor-general Bonnie Lysyk to the OPP for possible action on the “lingering questions” raised when Ford first said police would be notified.
“It’s something for police and the justice system to gauge,” Horwath told the Star, charging the premier’s promise of accountability and justice “has all gone up into thin air” amid findings from the auditor and the commission that his government was slow to respond to the threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes.
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“There were no (nursing home) licences pulled, there were no fines levied, there was no investigation launched into the specific homes where some of the most egregious situations occurred and we have a minister of long-term care and premier who are refusing to be accountable.”
Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton evaded questions Wednesday on the possibility of criminal charges and the status of any investigations but said “I regret that we couldn’t have moved faster” on measures to protect nursing home residents from the rapid advance of COVID-19.
“The buck stops with me,” Ford told the legislature when repeatedly pressed by the NDP to fire Fullerton, a former family doctor. “I’ll take responsibility.”
Horwath insisted that claim of responsibility rings hollow because there is no accountability without repercussions.
“There has been no apology or meaningful acknowledgment of the failures that allowed — even facilitated — the deaths of thousands in long-term care,” said executive director Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition.
Government officials were not clear Wednesday on what specific concerns may have been referred to police, either local or provincial.
“The Office of the Chief Coroner and police routinely work closely during coroner investigations and share any relevant information with each other,” said Stephen Warner, a spokesman for Jones.
“Should there be any criminal concerns during a death investigation, the coroner would bring them to the attention of the police. The Office of the Chief Coroner does not have the authority to lay criminal charges.”
Toronto and Peel police were not immediately aware of any investigations into nursing home deaths when contacted by the Star on Wednesday.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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