Minister of Long-Term Care walks out of news conference on damning commission report

Ontario's minister of long-term care, Merrilee Fullerton, walks out of a news conference on the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission's report. Blackburn News Photo.

An evasive minister of long-term care walked out of a news conference where she was speaking to the damning report by the province’s Long Term Care COVID-19 Commission.

The commission found the province was not prepared for the pandemic because of years of neglecting the sector including chronic underfunding and staffing shortages.

A Canadian Forces member told the commission in one home residents were not only dying of COVID-19 but also neglect, saying 26 died of dehydration, needing only “water and wipe.”

When asked when she learned people were dying of neglect, Merrilee Fullerton said “we have to move forward.”

“I came to politics because of long-term care, the neglect of this sector, and I came to fix it,” said Fullerton. “Our the government is fixing it. And we will move forward, understanding the insights and recommendations from the commission and I’m very very grateful to the commission for this work.”

The report was critical the government’s “lack of urgency” early in the pandemic, saying as outbreaks first started in homes the government still had not formalized its response structure.

Fullerton was asked what she would have done differently.

“The government measures and processes, we were trying to move fast for government and COVID-19 was moving faster,” she responded.

She was then asked if her government would apologize.

“You know I think collectively as a society we need to do some soul-searching and understand why, you know, it took a pandemic to address the capacity issues in long-term care,” she answered. “It’s very very clear in the commission’s report and the auditor general’s report that these were long standing issues.”

Fullerton frequently laid the blame on previous governments and answered questions by touting the government’s investments since the first wave of the pandemic including “20,000 new and over 15,000 upgraded spaces in development.” The province aims to create more than 30,00 new spaces over the next decade. Fullerton says they are also investing $9.6 billion new dollars in response to the pandemic.