Facing a Free Press probe that uncovered shoddy oversight of Ontario nursing homes, Health Minister Deb Matthews vowed Monday to more than double the number of inspectors and finally fulfil a promise made by her government in 2010.
Matthews committed to spend $12 million to hire and train 100 inspectors and make an annual occurrence out of comprehensive inspections that until now hadn’t been done at all in four in five nursing homes across the province.
“We’re renewing our commitment to annual, proactive inspections, and adding enough new inspectors to get the job done,” Matthews said.
The call for annual inspections had been made often in the past two years by advocates for those in nursing homes — but they found no audience in the Health Ministry until The Free Press showed in the past 11 days how far Matthews had strayed from early promises.
“Did we underestimate the resources (needed)? Yes, we did,” Matthews said. “As I became aware of that, that’s why I’m taking this action.”
Her sense of urgency was palpable. “We’re hiring now. We’re very serious about moving this as quickly as we can.”
The breadth of her announcement and the speed in which Matthews did an about-face stunned advocates who had lobbied for years for regular annual inspections.
“There were gasps,” said Jane Meadus of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.
“I want to thank (The Free Press) so much . . . This is going to make a huge difference,” Meadus said.
Until Monday’s announcement, Matthews had defended her ministry by pointing out that inspectors had made more than 6,700 probes since the Liberal government required comprehensive inspections in 2010.
But nearly all those probes were narrow inquiries after specific complaints or incidents, too late to prevent harm and too limited to understand how nursing homes were looking after their vulnerable residents, advocates said.
“We owe it to the residents to provide the highest possible quality of care, and this is what this announcement is all about,” Matthew said.
It wasn’t the first time her ministry made that commitment — it did the same in 2010 to fend off a full-fledged investigation by Ontario’s Ombudsman, records obtained by The Free Press show.
Letters from a deputy minister to the Ombudsman — copied to Matthews — committed to annual, comprehensive inspections called resident quality inspections.
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Promises delayed, then renewed:
July 1, 2010: Ontario’s government promises to fully inspect nursing homes annually as a new law takes effect.
May 31, 2013: Free Press reports more than 80% of nursing homes hadn’t had a full inspection.
June 3, 2013: Health Minister Deb Matthews admits her ministry has fallen short of expectations.
June 10, 2013: Matthews announces she will spend $12 million to more than double the number of inspectors and start doing annual inspections.