By Peter Millet and Andrea Woo
The province will phase out the use of prescription opioids to relieve pain and home-care workers will be required to be recertified every three years after Ontario’s first seniors’ agency to focus on halting the spread of opioid-resistant “superbugs” and toughen the rules for home-care staff hired by families.
Other changes in the draft report, to be published later Monday, will raise income-test thresholds for Medisys’ members, the caregivers and family members who currently get training and access to more than $450 million in public money every year. That would increase the annual income of recipients to $21,160, which would have already gone above the federal poverty line under the Canada Child Benefit for low-income families.
The changes were recommended by the Ontario Agency for Healthcare Regulatory Quality to combat the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” in seniors’ homes, despite a previous government decision to create the committee by replacing Health Canada-accredited nursing home auditors with review boards that are hand-picked by the chief nursing officer.
Ontario’s new seniors agency was created in May to overhaul the way seniors’ homes are regulated and funded in Canada’s largest province. The agency was created following a 2016 public-health warning that Ontario’s older population is being exposed to harmful infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which can be almost impossible to treat.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a multi-drug-resistant bacterial infection that causes widespread skin and soft tissue infections. It can be hard to treat and can spread through hospitals, long-term-care facilities and nursing homes. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has been found in people who live in long-term care homes, including 98.4 per cent of people in two private homes in southern Ontario.
Dr. Wendy Patrick, chief medical officer of public health for Hamilton and the region, said that rate of transmission in the two private homes was lower than the average transmission rate in nursing homes, which is around 99 per cent of residents.
The Ontario Society for Microbiology (OSM) released a report in August 2016 that estimated there are close to 3,000 drug-resistant germs in the region. A further report, released in March 2017, said more than 45,000 people and 5,500 staff in the province are infected with an antibiotic-resistant pathogen each year.
“We knew from the early days of MRSA in health care that when this type of germs get into health care, they spread like wildfire and they can take a country as they spread throughout health care,” said Patsy Zombeck, director of prevention and surveillance at the OSM.
Experts have linked patients with the most serious infections, which affect the bloodstream, face, back or arm, to a single underlying medical condition.
“So whether it’s housebound seniors or people in assisted living and others who are more mobile, if we’re able to identify those individuals at an early stage, it may be possible to slow down the progression of their infection,” Patrick said.
The most common health challenges in Ontario seniors are heart disease, age-related dementia and strokes, she said. “They do often have those debilitating infections and diseases that are what limit what they can do.”
The three standards the seniors’ agency is developing will require health-care professionals, nursing home staff and caregivers to be trained and certified to the same standard in preventing and treating MRSA.
From October, new regulations will also require that private long-term care home staff be required to be recertified within three years and specialists in bacteria spread by hand hygiene to be recertified every two years.
In a statement emailed to The Post, the minister of health and long-term care, Helena Jaczek, said the changes reflect the health ministry’s priorities.
“Families continue to tell us that their loved ones’ most pressing needs are not addressed with their existing residential care options and that more can be done to prevent and treat illness.”
The minister said the majority of Ontario’s 1,500 long-term care homes use the new requirement.
She added that no changes