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Canadians were shocked and disgusted by the horrifying findings uncovered last month by Canadian Armed Forces personnel dispatched to help residents in five Ontario nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
The military report revealed cockroach infestations, forceful feeding of the elderly, poor hygiene practices and neglect, including patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 being allowed to wander freely in one care home.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford described the report as "gut-wrenching," while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "deeply disturbing."
What was especially shocking was the fact the report exposed how little Canadians — including the governments of Ontario and Canada — knew about what was going on inside those personal-care homes.
No one should be casting stones in this province, however, because Manitoba has long resisted calls for inspection reports on nursing homes to be made public.
Those calls intensified earlier this month in the wake of a CBC investigation detailing the contents of 40 surprise inspection reports involving 29 different Winnipeg nursing homes. The reports — describing unannounced inspections between 2015 and 2019 — were obtained through freedom of information laws.
The 40 reports represent only a fraction of the roughly 80 inspections done annually at nearly 100 personal care homes in Manitoba.
Some of the inspection reports found few or no issues, but others revealed alarming deficiencies, including residents going up to 14 hours without access to food or drink, rooms going uncleaned for weeks, visibly soiled toilets and dead skin clusters on a bathtub.
The need for these reports to be made public is even more critical at a time when federal statistics show more than 80 per cent of coronavirus-related deaths in Canada have been linked to long-term care homes and residences for the elderly.
In Manitoba, inspection reports remain secret, while residents in Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan can easily visit government websites to find out when a home was last inspected, along with the results of that inspection.
The office of Manitoba’s auditor general has been calling for the release of these records for more than a decade, and the province’s opposition parties are now demanding an end to the secrecy.
"It’s completely inadequate," Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said. "Unless these are publicly available, there can’t be real accountability."
Offered NDP Leader Wab Kinew: "During this COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen what can happen. It can be really nasty what can happen when seniors are not cared for in an adequate way."
Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen — who, as Tory health critic in 2013, took aim at the NDP government for not releasing the inspection reports — has promised changes are coming.
"Our government is currently working on a plan to provide publicly, regularly updated reports outlining inspections results in LTC (long-term care) homes," Mr. Friesen said in a statement.
The increased openness can’t come soon enough. There is no reason why inspection reports could not be posted on the government’s website, allowing Manitobans to use smart devices to scrutinize the care inside nursing homes.
The province for years has posted detailed health-protection reports that reveal when restaurants or other businesses are fined or closed for violating health orders. By contrast, brief online reports have cited penalties imposed on residential care homes, but without the details contained in inspection reports.
The global pandemic has underscored that seniors in care homes are Canada’s most vulnerable population. The fact they need greater protection is not a secret.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
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