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Process questioned after Vaughan private firm picked for long-term-care home

Is it time to revamp the process of choosing how to select and pay for nursing homes?
Jan. 22, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

UniversalCare Canada Inc. is already part of a $35-million lawsuit over dozens of deaths at Villa Colombo Vaughan Di Poce Centre -- a long-term-care home it managed in Vaughan.

The lawsuit claims aggregate damages of $25 million and $10 million in punitive damages.

According to the lawsuit, if the defendants “met the minimum standard of care expected of Ontario long-term care communities, they would have been able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately lessen the impact of COVID-19 to their residents,” reported PressProgress, a non-profit media organization.

UniversalCare was also linked to an anti-teacher ad campaign by posing as a fake parents' group called “Vaughan Working Families” in 2018, which was registered by another non-profit group called “Vaughan Health Campus of Care.”

However, the private company continues to receive support from the government, with Conservative politicians continuing to take photo ops with UniversalCare.

Some other examples reported by PressProgress include how Loopstra Nixon LLP lawyer Quinto Annibale, who registered and previously served as a director on the board of the fake parents' group, also chaired “Vaughan Health Campus of Care.” In October, Annibale, who was selected to chair Villa Colombo in October, was appointed vice-chair of the LCBO by the Ford government.

In addition, in December, the Doug Ford government chose UniversalCare to be in charge of the Revera Westside Long Term Care Home in Etobicoke, which already experienced its share of unfortunate deaths due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

When asked if this kind of selection process is appropriate for how the government should choose companies for highly sensitive areas such as long-term-care homes, Greg Albo, professor of political economy at the department of political science at York University, said, “This process is a travesty.”

“We know that for-profit LTC (homes) have been much worse in proper care provision, and even non-profit ones have been not as good as one provided by municipalities (even though these often have much more difficult residents),” Albo said.

“If there is a failure of market provisioning, with the crisis situation clearly partly due to violations in meeting regulatory commitments even when sanctioned, and continually to skirt best-practice staffing for the pandemic setting, the last thing one should do is go back to the private sector to resolve the problem,” Albo added.

Doug Sheppard, unit chairperson, York Region and Long-Term Care Unit(s) for CUPE Local 905, explained how the union has long advocated that “our long-term-care facilities should not be for profit.”

“They should be treated the same as the rest of the health-care sector,” Sheppard added, describing how the municipally run nursing homes have “certainly not had the crisis” of COVID-19 outbreaks experienced in both private and private non-profits.

After asking Sheppard how the taxpayer base can support incorporating nursing homes to be public in face of an increasingly aging population, he said, “I think we're going to have to take a look at our tax system and how we allocate funds. And I think that we're going to have to take a look at when you talk about our tax system, it needs a revamping.”

He added, “The only burden can't just be on the municipal taxpayer.”

Albo also mulled over how the ministries pertaining to long-term-care homes should have taken over management and “co-ordinated with the local hospitals to resolve this issue on an emergency basis.”

“That is, take profits out of the equation, suspend the existing management, stop bonuses and dividend payouts, and place controls on the assets. It should then work also with the workers and their associated unions to immediately enter into a crisis management mode to solve problems,” Albo said.

However, he continued saying how the Ford government has “pretty much done the exact opposite of what rational decision-making would mandate by using more private management and for-profit corporations to fix the problems of that system of provisioning.”