The independent commission looking into how the province handled the deadly spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes told the government it needed more time to finish its final report because the government itself wasn’t providing enough documentation.
The Ontario government rejected the extension request.
The commission released letters outlining the back-and-forth on its website Monday.
The three-person commission was seeking an extension until December of 2021 to complete its final report, but Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister responsible for long-term care said no.
“The commission continues to encounter significant delays in obtaining government information central to the commission’s investigation. Most documents responsive to the commission’s document summonses and requests remain outstanding,” the commissioners wrote in a letter to Fullerton on Dec. 9, 2020.
“We understand the rationale for completing the report as soon as possible. We are however, writing to inform you that we will not have completed the investigation in time to deliver our report by the intended date.”
The Ford government has said the independent commission was a better fit than launching a public inquiry because it would be able to produce results faster. In the time since, COVID-19 has continued to ravage long-term care homes, to the point where more than one-in-three homes in Ontario is currently dealing with an outbreak.
Fullerton responded to the commission on Dec. 23, 2020, denying the extension request, saying: “The urgency of our situation has not changed.”
Fullerton added the need for timely and focused advice is even more acute during the pandemic’s second wave.
“The government has had to take aggressive and decisive action to deal with this situation, and we will continue to make COVID-19 and Ontario’s long-term care system a central focus of our ongoing policy agenda,” Fullerton said.
By denying the extension, the commission is now expected to produce a final report by April 30.
Both letters were posted to the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission’s website on Monday as the province reported 219 long-term care homes with active outbreaks.
That represents 35 per cent of all care homes in Ontario, with 1,160 residents and 1,140 staff members currently infected with the virus, according to provincial data.
The province says 11,369 long-term care residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
The virus has killed 2,795 people living in long-term care homes, the province says, with 14 more deaths reported on Sunday.
The commission flagged a lack of provincial oversight and uneven management standards in an interim report on the situation last month.
The interim report pointed to a provincial decision in the fall of 2018 to end comprehensive inspections and a lack of enforcement when issues are found. It found that fines and prosecutions are rarely applied on home operators, leaving a lack of urgency to address violations.