Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is ‘deeply disturbed’ by a Canadian military report, which documents allegations of abuse and gross neglect in at least five seniors’ homes in the past few weeks.
The Canadian leader sent soldiers to long term care homes in April after both Ontario and Quebec requested help for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, which had led to a spike in deaths and a crippling shortage of healthcare staff.
The report, provided to CNN by the Ontario government, describes “dire” conditions where residents were not bathed for days, vulnerable seniors were kept in soiled clothing and sheets for hours and Covid-19 patients were allowed to wander.
It alleges staff at five long term care facilities in the Toronto area reused syringes and ignored residents crying in pain for at least two hours.
There were also alleged gaps in hygiene and disinfection, with at least one facility having an infestation of ants and cockroaches.
The report said staff training was poor and some staff members were abusive – pulling patients and aggressively transferring residents in and out of bed.
Some of the residents reported as isolated, depressed, and disoriented, with some saying they felt scared and “alone like they’re in jail.”
Trudeau said he was troubled by the report’s allegations, and promised that his government would do better to help improve conditions.
“I read the report in full yesterday, we shared it with the provincial government of Ontario on the weekend, it is deeply disturbing. There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action,” said Trudeau during his daily press conference from Ottawa.
It is unclear what that those action will be, but Trudeau has had continuing conversations with provincial leaders about long term care facilities that have been especially hard hit during the pandemic. Some health advocates have called for an end to for-profit care homes.
Many nations, like Canada, have been slow to respond to the threat to care homes amid the pandemic, which has led to devastating consequences.
Trudeau was initially reluctant to send soldiers to the facilities, but his government was left few options as deaths spiraled in April. Ontario has now asked that the military deployment continue for at least another month.
Canadian soldiers are now effectively acting as whistle blowers as public health officials in Ontario and Quebec admit elderly residents suffered neglect as the pandemic ravaged care homes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he decided to release the report in the name of transparency and promised that there would be justice and accountability.
“The reports they provided us were heartbreaking, they were horrific, it’s shocking that this can happen here in Canada, it’s gut-wrenching,” said Ford during a Tuesday press conference.
Ford said that the pandemic had exposed the broken state of long term care facilities in Canada, including chronic underfunding and poorly trained staff working in some cases for minimum wage with no benefits.
“They’ll be accountability, they’ll be justice for these residents and their families as soon as we received these reports we launched a full investigation into these allegations,” said Ford adding that the results of the investigation will be shared with police.
Data by Long-Term Care responses to Covid-19 (LTCcovid), a global network of academics and experts in the field who gather and analyze official data from around the world, found that more than half of all coronavirus deaths in nations including Belgium, France, Ireland, Canada and Norway occurred in care homes or among care home residents in all settings.
Health Canada says nearly 80% of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada are related to long term care institutions for the elderly. As of Tuesday, Canada reported more than 6,555 deaths from the virus.
CNN’s Tara John and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.