By PETER MILOBAR
MLA, Kamloops-North Thompson
WITH RECENT LOCAL OUTBREAKS at Royal Inland Hospital and Gemstone Care Centre, COVID-19 is still top of mind for many in our region.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all British Columbians, but has had a disproportionate impact on seniors, especially those in long-term care (LTC) homes and assisted living facilities.
Our province’s care homes have been the sites of the deadliest outbreaks in B.C. and continue to see coronavirus deaths to this day.
It makes perfect sense that the government would have ordered a report investigating what went wrong in LTC last year, but what has everyone from journalists to care home operators scratching their heads is why the NDP government then buried that report.
The government’s report, written by Ernst & Young, was commissioned last summer to examine the impact of COVID-19 in long-term care and the early failures seen in LTC facilities to provide the NDP government with policy and operational recommendations so that LTC homes could be better prepared to mitigate COVID-19 risks moving into the fall.
What’s so deeply troubling is that the report, containing important recommendations to keep our most vulnerable seniors safe going forward, was completed in October and subsequently shelved by the government.
In fact, the health minister claims he had no idea the report even existed until an intrepid reporter asked him about it the other week. It shouldn’t take pressure from the media to get the NDP to publish information vital to our fight against COVID-19.
This report should have been released immediately upon completion back in October of last year because British Columbians deserve transparency and action to combat the crisis in long-term care.
The lack of standardization across LTC facilities was one of the most important findings of the report and yet that issue persists to this day.
Along with the fact that B.C. has yet to adopt the rapid testing strategy in care homes that has been called for by our BC Liberal Caucus, the B.C. Seniors Advocate and the B.C. Care Providers, it’s clear so much more could and should have been changed already.
While rapid tests are not as reliable as lab tests, by pre-emptively screening LTC staff they can go a long way in helping detect asymptomatic workers, a strategy that has worked successfully in other provinces. Those tests are being used in B.C. on film sets, in prisons and in our airports, so why not long-term care?
The NDP government has a large stockpile of over one-million Health Canada approved rapid tests received from the federal government back in November.
We have an obligation to protect those most at risk of dying from COVID-19 and the inexpensive and easy-to-administer rapid tests would go a long way to increasing their safety until vaccines arrive at all LTC homes. British Columbians deserve a government that steps up and tackles this issue head on.
It’s time for John Horgan and the NDP to apologize for shelving the LTC report and take immediate actions to protect our loved ones in long-term care facilities. It’s the least they can do to combat this crisis in long-term care.
Peter Milobar is the MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson and is a former mayor of Kamloops.