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A senior and a care worker, both wearing PPE, standing together

Data, not politics, must determine the path forward for long term care

By Tom Wellner

The impact of COVID-19 on the long term care sector in Canada has been a wake-up call. For years long term care was not prioritized in the healthcare continuum. While it is refreshing to now have the country’s attention on senior care, it is equally important that we use this attention wisely. We need to make sure that we focus our collective efforts on the right issues and solve real problems the system faces.

I was pleased when the Ontario Government announced the launch of an Independent Commission to investigate COVID-19’s spread and impact in long term care homes across Ontario and mandated it to develop practical and actionable recommendations. Over the past several months, the Commission has heard from residents, families, experts in the medical, geriatric and long term care fields, stakeholder groups, and sector organizations. I spoke with the Commission about Revera’s experience as a senior living operator, as well as the findings from the Revera Expert Panel Report entitled “The Perfect Storm: The COVID-19 Experience for Revera and the Long Term Care Sector”. The Commission’s final report is expected to be submitted by April 30th, 2021; Revera has already implemented the recommendations from the Commission’s Interim Report released last October.

“We need to make sure that we focus our collective efforts on the right issues and solve real problems the system faces.”

On February 19th, the Commission heard from Michael Hillmer, Assistant Deputy Minister, Capacity Planning and Analytics, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. You can read the full transcript of Mr. Hillmer’s testimony here. He and his team have closely examined data from both Wave 1 and Wave 2 of the pandemic in long term care homes, and have also looked at the data from the lens of ownership model – privately-owned homes, not-for-profit homes and municipally-owned homes.

Similar to the Revera Expert Panel Report, the Government’s data review shows that community spread is “the single biggest determinant of whether you have an outbreak.” The review also echoes the Expert Panel’s finding that homes with the older design standard were more likely to experience an increased extent of an outbreak, but it was not a significant factor in whether the home went into outbreak to begin with. In terms of profit vs not-for-profit status and the impact overall through Wave 1 and 2, Mr. Hillmer concluded that ownership model was not a factor “in outbreak, speed or mortality.”

In a situation as complex as a pandemic, data is crucial in understanding what happened, and telling us where we need to focus. It is clear from the data that we must focus on reducing community spread through infection prevention and control practices, surveillance testing for asymptomatic carriers and vaccination efforts. It is also crystal clear that we need to accelerate the redevelopment of aging long term care homes that have ward-style rooms and aging infrastructure that is not ideally suited for increasingly frail seniors and for pandemic conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of us. It is without question a human tragedy. We must not politicize or use this tragedy to advance personal or political agendas. The “for-profit vs not-for-profit” dichotomy is just that—a political agenda. It is a distraction from the real issues and it is not supported by data.

Be well. Stay safe. Stay strong. Wear a mask.

Sincerely,  
Thomas Wellner, President & CEO, Revera Inc

Tom Wellner
By Tom Wellner
Tom Wellner is President and CEO of Revera. He has led Revera since 2014 and has guided its strategic direction to grow, innovate and lead in the sector. He has a passion for innovative solutions to complex problems and believes that innovation is key to designing a better aging experience.