This week on Pull Quotes, podcast editor Emma Jones interviewed Nora Loreto, editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media and co-host of Sandy and Nora Talk Politics with Sandy Hudson. We reached out to Nora because of her work compiling data on COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes across Canada, and to ask about coverage of this issue before and throughout the pandemic.
A link to Nora’s data on deaths in residential care is available here.
In Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has not hit all communities equally.
Approximately 69 percent of deaths due to the pandemic have occurred in long-term care homes and retirement residences, according to data from the National Institute of Aging at Ryerson University. In May 2020, a report released by the Canadian armed forces detailed cockroaches, rotting food, lack of personal protective equipment and lapses in sanitation protocol in various long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec.
Nora Loreto, an activist, writer, and podcaster based in Quebec city, noticed a gap in how public health units and journalists were recording the skyrocketing death tolls in long-term care institutions.
“There was no central location…where they had a list of these deaths and I knew that if we weren’t keeping track of them, they would just fall into the ether,” says Loreto. “Some of them collect the information of how many people have died [in] long term care, but that’s usually like a lump sum. Then you have to know all of the facilities within a Health District to know who may be connected to those figures”
Each night, Nora sorts through news reports and releases from public health agencies to compile data on COVID-related deaths in residential facilities . She consistently finds that while the numbers of deaths are reported, the facilities in which these deaths occur are rarely included, making it difficult to see important patterns in the data.
“What I find very frustrating is oftentimes I’ll go through the nightly news and find out, you know, two people have died in Ottawa. Every single news outlet in Ottawa…have all said two people have died [in] long term care, and no one has named what long term care facilities,” says Loreto. “…They just didn’t add that – they just didn’t name the facilities. That’s a huge problem, right?”
By far, the hardest hit long term-care homes residences were run by for-profit corporations, increasing public scrutiny on the role profit motivations play in these homes. In Canada, there are 2,039 long-term care homes. Of these, 23 percent are private, for-profit entities, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Ontario has the most private for-profit homes in the country. A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed the health outcomes of all 623 long-term care homes located in Ontario between March 29 and May 20, 2020. While the study did not find an increase in the likelihood of outbreaks between for-profit and not-for profit homes when all other competing data was controlled, when outbreaks did occur, for-profit homes correlated with both a higher number of infected residents and a higher death rate.
An investigation released by CBC Marketplace indicates that for-profit care homes lag behind public and not-for-profit homes in updating facilities to meet modern safety standards—including mandating that there should only be a maximum of two beds per room. This may have played a role in the high death toll in Ontario’s long-term care facilities. According to the report, a third of beds in long-term care homes do not meet modern safety standards, and these cases make up 57 percent of the deaths in long-term care homes.
Loreto’s data shows the raw experiences of one of Canada’s most vulnerable populations. She sits down with us this week to talk about the importance of attributing data, the history of reporting on long-term care homes in Canada and a potential way forward from this tragedy.
Emma Jones, Podcast Editor & this week’s host
Joe Fish, Podcast Producer
Saniya Rashid, Chief of Research
Alex Ramsay, Fact Checker
Scott McLean, Review Journalist
Sonya Fatah, Faculty Advisor
Lindsay Hanna, Digital Content & Web Design Specialist