Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday he’s “not taking anything off the table” when it comes to addressing shortcomings in Canada’s long-term care homes, but stayed tight-lipped on whether he thinks there should be a national inquiry into the state of the challenged system.
The prime minister’s comments follow the release of two Canadian military reports about the challenges and conditions that soldiers observed in Ontario and Quebec nursing homes hard-hit by COVID-19.
When asked by a journalist whether he thinks there needs to be a national inquiry into long-term care facilities, Trudeau said the federal government’s focus is on providing immediate assistance at this point in the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I think right now, while we’re in this crisis, our responsibility is to respond to this crisis as best we can and to ensure that we’re improving, in the context, care as best we can,” the prime minister said, adding the country “absolutely” needs to have “conversations about how we care for our elders” in the long-term.
Trudeau said those conversations will “be held at the appropriate time.”
Later, the prime minister added in French that he’s “not taking anything off the table.” He said the federal government will be there to support the provinces, which have jurisdiction over the delivery of long-term care, but said Ottawa will “respect” that jurisdiction, noting that long-term care challenges vary across the country.
To date, the problems appear to have been most severe in Ontario and Quebec, prompting the two premiers to ask the federal government for military aid in the homes back in April.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces subsequently wrote two separate reports, documenting what they observed in the seniors homes where they were deployed, that were delivered to federal officials earlier in May.
The Ontario report, the details of which were first reported by Global News on Tuesday, described abuse and neglect, among other allegations, at five long-term care facilities in the province. Ontario Premier Doug Ford released the report to public later that afternoon.
The premier said his government had launched a full investigation into the allegations contained in the report, and the results would be shared with police to “look into any possible criminal charges.” The province had previously said it will launch an independent commission into Ontario’s long-term care system.
The Quebec government released the military report about its homes on Wednesday morning. The 60-page report points to three major challenges in about 25 facilities, mostly in located in Montreal: staffing shortages, management of personal protective equipment and how hot zones related to COVID-19 are handled.
A reporter asked Trudeau for his thoughts on the finding that some Quebec nursing homes were keeping residents who tested positive for the virus in rooms for those who tested negative.
“The report highlights a number of preoccupying issues and the military has acted with tremendous professionalism, not just in writing a report and sharing it, but on acting on the ground with administration of the centres, with partners to ensure that procedures are improved,” Trudeau responded.
Premier François Legault said the report did “not have a lot of surprises” about the state of Quebec’s nursing homes amid the pandemic.
“The situation remains difficult,” Legault said, noting facilities desperately need more workers.
Quebec’s ombudsperson announced on Tuesday she is launching her own “impartial and independent” investigation into the government and health network’s handling of the health crisis in long-term care homes and seniors residences.
Trudeau confirmed this week that both Ontario and Quebec have asked Ottawa to extend the army’s mission in long-term care facilities.
On Wednesday, the prime minister said discussions with the two provincial governments on that request are ongoing.
Earlier in the day, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the allegations contained in the military’s Ontario nursing home report “appalling.” Singh, who has advocated for Ottawa to bring the long-term care system under the Canada Health Act, called on the federal government to take swift action to address the situation.
“We want the federal government to show leadership on this and not hide behind jurisdiction,” the NDP leader said.
—With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise, Andrew Russell, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell and the Canadian Press
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