Ontario Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton faced a call from the Opposition to resign her cabinet post on Tuesday, in the wake of two reports that reviewed her ministry’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent days, Fullerton has been pressed to explicitly acknowledge whether she feels she shares any responsibility for the more than 3,700 deaths of long-term care residents with COVID-19 in Ontario.
During question period Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked when Fullerton was made aware that some residents had died of dehydration or basic neglect, which led a tense exchange between the two.
WATCH | Ontario’s minister of long-term care responds to calls for her to resign during tense exchange:
“The premise of your question is bordering on obscene,” Fullerton said. “And the reason why is because all of the ministry, public health, medical officers of health, thousands of people have been working to shore up these homes and they were no match for COVID-19.”
Fullerton said that some long-term care homes became “warzones” within days of the first confirmed cases among residents and staff.
“What we were doing 24 hours a day was trying to get support to those homes, with an unknown virus that wasn’t fully understood and a shortage of supplies globally,” she added.
Fullerton then said the NDP had failed to pressure the previous Liberal government into fixing Ontario’s beleaguered long-term care sector.
“Look at your failure. I will left to pick up the pieces from a devastating 15 years of neglect,” she said. “I will not be spoken to that way by the leader of the opposition that neglected this sector.”
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk and the Ontario Long-term Care COVID-19 Commission both released their respective reports last week. While the probes examined different aspects of COVID-19’s impact on the long-term care sector, they reached similar conclusions: the ministry was not prepared for a pandemic, in part due to years of inaction to prevent a crisis.
“I have said before that I am committed to making sure that long-term care is a better place to live, a better place to work. These lives lost cannot be in vain,” Fullerton said Tuesday.
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