On April 15 three of the largest owners and operators of long-term care homes, Chartwell Retirement Residences, Extendicare and Sienna Senior Living, all declared their dividends for April and paid out their dividend for March. This was in spite of the fact that these companies have all had deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 in multiple residences across Canada.
Perhaps the most egregious case, Sienna Senior Living, has had fatalities across Ontario in multiple facilities. By May 6, Sienna had 40 deaths in Camilla Community Care of Missisauga. At the Altamont Care Community, which Sienna operates in Scarborough, a personal support worker (PSW) and 46 residents have died. The death of the PSW was announced the day after Sienna’s dividends were declared and paid out, and was one of eight deaths prior to April 15.
According to a report released on May 6 by the Ontario Health Coalition, the rates of death for COVID-19 in for-profit long-care homes is double that of homes that are non-profit or publicly owned. Deaths rates in for-profit homes are also increasing at a rate double to non-profit and publicly owned homes.
Rather than investing in the residences to provide resources for workers putting their lives at risk, the boards of these companies have decided to bleed off resources in the form of profits for themselves and their absentee investors. Over the years, the cumulative effect of these dividends has resulted in the diversion of tens of millions of dollars away from the care of seniors into profits for the bosses.
The day after the announced dividends, Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton stated in response to media enquiries about the possibility of the province taking over the affected facilities, “The Ministry of Long-Term Care does not operate homes, but we will assist where other companies need to come in and provide resources and support for struggling homes.”
Capitalism and long-term care
Canadians have long prided themselves on their universal public health-care system. However, the fully public system effectively comes to an end as you age. Long-term care in Ontario is dominated by the private sector where the greed of the bosses undermines resident care, and public homes are collapsing from chronic underfunding.
Fullerton is a long-time advocate of privatization and market-based medical care. Prior to becoming a member of provincial parliament and cabinet minister in Doug Ford’s government, she was a guest on right-wing U.S. media advocating for American-style private medical care where money buys better treatment. She denounced the Canadian system of universal and equal care and discouraged Americans from following the Canadian model.
But Minister Fullerton is only the most current and open manifestation of the push for privatized health care—an idea promoted in different ways by all capitalist parties. The role played by Liberals in reducing money for our health-care system is even recognized by right-wing think tank the Fraser Institute, which has been pushing Trudeau to finish the job started by Jean Chrétien in the 1990s. These disgusting people have blood on their hands as we now see the result of private-sector dominance in long-term care.
Significantly, the chair of the board of Chartwell Residences is none other than Mike Harris, former Conservative premier of Ontario who implemented massive cuts to social services in the 1990s. It is therefore not surprising that Harris was involved in such a crass decision as to take money out of the system during a declaration of emergency where hundreds are dying.
During his tenure as premier, Harris led a crusade of austerity that cut welfare rolls by more than 20 per cent, closed hospitals and privatized government services. His cuts left people floundering and unable to buy food. In total, 11,400 hospital beds were cut which are now desperately needed as Ontario and the world face a pandemic on a scale unknown for several generations.
The capitalist system demands profits for investors, even if the cost is our very lives. The ugliness of private long-term care providers paying out dividends to shareholders in the middle of this pandemic exposes the system in the eyes of millions of people. Relatives of those elderly are now left peering into the windows of these homes to say their last goodbyes, while greedy bosses pay themselves dividends like nothing has happened.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. This isn’t a crisis of scarcity of resources, but one of unequal distribution. We produce more than enough wealth to be able to fully fund our health-care system and care for our elderly. What is required is to take control of this wealth out of the hands of the profiteers and their political lackeys and into the hands of ordinary working class people.