‘What's it going to take to get the ministry to take action to protect our youth and the workers who care for them? More fatalities?’
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said it is “greatly concerned” that six youth custody centres run by the Ontario government have been denied the ability to isolate or test new admissions for COVID-19.
In contrast, the province's adult correctional facilities, as well as many privately run transfer payment youth facilities, have been using full protection and quarantining new admissions for many weeks.
“We're four months into this pandemic. Over 2,600 have died in Ontario alone. COVID-19 cases are on the rise among young people,” says Warren Thomas, OPSEU president. “What's it going to take to get the ministry to take action to protect our youth and the workers who care for them? More fatalities?”
Youth facilities face the same difficulties as adult facilities with setting and maintaining physical distancing, and there are alarming reports of spikes in the number of youth now testing positive for COVID-19, according to Tom Gibson, co-chair of the Youth Justice Divisional Health and Safety.
“Our members have suggested several options to limit the possibility of COVID-19 entering one of our facilities, and we've offered to work with the employer to develop a protocol. Unfortunately, the employer has failed to respond in any fashion for over a month,” says Gibson. “Preventing the disease at the point of admission is key. Our workers face the same dilemmas that led to many of the long-term care facility outbreaks. Pretending there's no problem won't make it go away.”
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU first vice-president/treasurer who is a correctional officer, says Minister Todd Smith must intervene with his officials to ensure safety comes first.
“Mr. Smith, your youth justice workers are pleading with ministry managers to stop gambling with the lives of staff and vulnerable youth,” said Almeida. “It's time to put test-and-isolate protocols in place at all youth facilities before it's too late.”
Recently, Ontario’s long-term care facilities woes have been exposed with reports from the military. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) also released a report that compiled 35 reports about the troubles in the province’s long-term care system and the recommendations that different groups have made since 1999.
In May, Ontario offered the first phase of its broad-based COVID-19 testing to frontline workers who are members of the OPSEU working in congregate settings such as corrections and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The province also announced it is investing more than $500 million over five years to transform correctional facilities across the province to help ensure the safety and security of frontline staff.