From high death rates in long-term care homes, concerning levels of health care worker infections and low COVID-19 testing, over 500 people polled in Hamilton and Niagara, said the provincial government is underperforming in how it is dealing with the pandemic response. 

The poll was conducted for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and CUPE Ontario in early May. Polling took place prior to a shocking report from the Canadian military whose soldiers are currently assisting in five Ontario long-term homes was released late May. Four of the five homes are for-profit and privately owned and have since been taken over by the province. 

Across Ontario, at of the beginning of June, more than 1648 long-term care residents have died from COVID-19, and thousands of front-line staff are infected with the virus. CUPE has consistently raised concerns that very ill residents with COVID-19 were not being taken for higher care in hospitals. 

When asked whether the government should move long-term care residents ill with COVID-19 symptoms to hospital, to protect the other residents more than twice as many in Hamilton/Niagara said yes (51 per cent) as those that said no (24 per cent), they should not be moved. 

“This government cancelled inspections of long-term care facilities last year at the request of the long-term care industry and until recently long-term care residents with COVID-19 were not being transferred to hospital. This government has turned a blind eye and has a lot to answer for. But all of us owe so much more to this generation in our care and it is time to face that squarely,” says OCHU president Michael Hurley.

As of June 3, 4797 health care workers were infected with COVID-19. Thirteen of them have died. Consistently hospital and long-term care workers who are members of CUPE have said they do not have access to the equipment such as N95 to work safely. The province has been clear that the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is low and that health staff must not waste PPE.

“LTC care staff care staff have loudly told the Premier and his ministers that they are often denied PPE or told to ration and reuse masks and gowns,” says Hurley. “The same military report supports what health care workers have been telling the government, that the PPE they need to protect themselves and residents, simply is not being made available to them.” Asked whether they thought the province needed to toughen its standards for protecting health care staff, 80 per cent polled in Hamilton and Niagara, said yes.

Testing for COVID-19 in Ontario is improving but still lagging. Other countries with aggressive testing have many fewer deaths. When asked would you like to see Ontario significantly increased testing, respondents in Hamilton/Niagara showed high support for widespread COVID-19 testing with 78 per cent saying yes. Approval is even higher for testing all hospital patients and staff for the virus with 85 per cent of respondents in support.