What is the value of a promise?
In some cases we have chastised government over the lack promises kept, such as the 10-year mental health strategy that never materialized. Or the lack of community-based resources that were supposed to replace a decade’s worth of hospital bed cuts. Or the long-delayed strategic plan for health care the Local Health Integration Networks were supposed to initially use as a guide for their own integrated health service plans.
In other cases, we’d rather hope the Minister of Health simply forgot some of her promises, such as the one to re-introduce competitive bidding to home care or base the decision to implement a resident quality inspection (RQI) on how many complaints and critical incidents a nursing home experiences. To her credit, both were policy duds and it appears were only offered up once and quickly abandoned.
Matthews has made many promises around fixing long-term care, as has her predecessors. Yet we get a regular serving of scandal on this file, evidence that the fix was either not happening or not happening quickly enough.
When we learned Monday that Matthews had taken the bold step of more than doubling the number of long-term care inspectors, we were both stunned and pleased by the news.
Oddly throughout the day we heard from a number of sources that Matthews had previously made this promise before and never followed through. The suggestion was we shouldn’t celebrate too quickly – at least not before we see the whites of the new inspectors’ eyes.
We weren’t the only individuals to hear this. One media outlet contacted us to see if we knew about this previous commitment. We didn’t.
As the bargaining representative for the long-term care inspectors, we thought this was a promise we’d not easily forget. Did it happen over the Christmas break, or in the dead of summer? Was this announced furtively during a midnight whistle-stop in northern Ontario and reported by a single freezing scribe from a small town paper that didn’t have an online presence? How come it just didn’t search?
Even the provincial NDP had no idea when or if such a detailed commitment had ever been made around the specific number of inspectors – yet one rumour had it she previously offered up 80 new inspectors. Really?
The language in the Long Term Care Act specifies an annual inspection takes place. It provides no definition of what that entails, giving the Minister at least temporary cover to claim that any encounter between a home and an inspector constitutes an annual inspection. For most of us looking at a decade of tragedies in long-term care, the thought that such a minimal intervention would count as an annual inspection was in itself scandalous.
Many found THAT to be the broken promise given the reaction of Matthews to many of those tragedies in long-term care.
Now the homes will be subject to a full and detailed RQI every year – provided 100 new inspectors will be enough.
At least that’s the promise.
We will, at least, remember this.