Ukrainian community has much to offer in dealing with COVID

Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO and Executive Director of UCC National

Government should take up UCC’s offer to share expertise

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has not only welcomed the announcement that the Government of Canada intends to work with provincial and territorial governments to set national standards for long-term care, but it also offered its assistance in helping the Government develop such standards.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 40 Ukrainian long-term care homes across Canada have seen better health outcomes and higher rates of life satisfaction for seniors and their families than have comparable for-profit institutions. This is borne out by evidence-based policy studies of long-term care facilities,” stated Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO and Executive Director of UCC National in a September 24 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


“The UCC is ready to work with the Government of Canada to identify experts, stakeholders and practitioners in our community that ensure that the experience of these long-term care homes is integrated into the development of national standards for all Canadians,” he added.

Indeed, with long-term care centres accounting for over 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada, the pandemic has brought the ongoing systemic crisis in these centres, the for-profit ones in particular, to public attention in very stark terms. In fact, last spring, the military had to be called in to deal with the crisis in five Toronto homes and on May 26 issued a scathing report which detailed “horrific” allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it “the most heart-wrenching report” he’s ever read in his life.

A month earlier, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) issued a report which showed that care homes run on a for-profit basis tend to have lower staffing levels, more verified complaints, more transfers to hospitals and higher rates for both ulcers and morbidity.

“Managerial practices taken from the business sector are designed for making a profit, rather than for providing good care. These include paying the lowest wages possible, and hiring part-time, casual and those defined as self employed in order to avoid paying benefits or providing other protections. Contracting out services such as cleaning, laundry, food and security can also increase risk by bringing more people into homes on a daily basis,” stated the report.

But homes run by community organizations are operated on a non-profit basis. As such, they “offer accountability, cultural connections and better understand the needs of the patients and their families,” Michalchyshyn told New Pathway – Ukrainian News (NP-UN).

When we first wrote on this issue in our May 4, 2020 editorial, we focussed on two such non-profit Ukrainian homes that had managed to avoid any COVID cases at that point. They have maintained this enviable record to date. One such home, the Ivan Franko long-term facility in Etobicoke, was even singled out by CBC News as a positive example. There, the management team implemented a comprehensive pandemic plan before the Ontario government declared a provincewide state of emergency.

“There’s been talk of pandemics for years, so we had a complete emergency plan and pandemic plan in place, which we decided to implement as of March 16,” Terry Tonkovich, executive director of Ivan Franko Homes told CBC News.

The home has required staff to only work at one facility — either Ivan Franko or another one, but not both. For part-time staff who normally worked in multiple homes but chose to work permanently at Ivan Franko, Tonkovich said she and her team increased their hours to full time.

The other example we cited was St. Michael’s Long-Term Care Centre in Edmonton.

“St. Michael’s Health Group (SMHG) quickly adapted to much needed changes when the pandemic made its way to Canada. We have benefited from guidelines, advice and best practice information as provided by the Chief Medical Officer of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, and Alberta Health,” SMHG CEO John Kopeck told NP-UN.

“St. Michael’s has not had any cases of COVID-19 among residents or staff. We were among the first sites to implement full screening at our entry for all staff and at the same time restricted access to visitors. Staff have been continually re-educated on best practice for use of PPE and our housekeeping staff have been exemplary in adopting enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices.

“Another area of key importance has been to continually monitor the mental health of our residents and staff. The recreation department has developed programming they can deliver one-on-one to help keep residents active while following distancing guidelines,” he added.

A third facility that deserves mention is the Sts. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Seniors Homes in Toronto. Jaroslaw Grod, Chair of the Board of Directors, attributes this success to its Chief Administrative Officer, Dennis Levesque, a retired Canadian Armed Forces Senior Officer, who instituted Draconian measures to protect the seniors in the home.

“This included segregating our Retirement Home wing (also known as the Bishop Borecky Wing [BBW]) from the independent living apartment wing, and restricting access to the first-floor common spaces to BBW residents only,” Grod said. “Strict measures have been enforced regarding visitation of residents, and all employees must work only in our residence. We have an atmosphere of cooperation and professionalism amongst the staff, which has allowed all to understand the importance of following all of the COVID-19 precautions so that the virus does not enter the building.”

Grod also serves as the Chair of the UCC Seniors Working Group, which was organized by UCC National president, Alexandra Chyczij. Her goal was to connect as many Ukrainian Seniors’ Homes across Canada as possible to share information, supply chain issues and organizational methodologies.

“UCC held for the first time a Seniors workshop at the latest triennial congress in Ottawa in November 2019. We had representatives from seniors’ homes across Canada. We have about nine homes that are actively taking part so far. We hope to engage more,” Grod said.

Etobicoke-Centre MP and Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group Yvan Baker has been advocating for national standards since May. He was one of five Liberal backbenchers who, in a May 29 letter, pressed Trudeau to implement enforceable national standards for the operation of long-term care homes in Canada. Baker has welcomed the UCC’s proposal enthusiastically.

“National standards are the only way to ensure that the necessary resources are invested and reforms made to our long-term care system to ensure that long-term care homes provide the level of care that our seniors deserve,” Baker told NP-UN. “I am grateful for UCC’s backing and advocacy over the past number of months in support of national standards for long-term care. I am also grateful for UCC’s letter dated Sept. 24, 2020 which expresses UCC’s support of the Government of Canada’s announcement that it will work with the provinces & territories to set national standards for long-term care and UCC’s willingness to help in the development of those standards.”

Throughout this pandemic, the long-term care centres run by the Ukrainian Canadian community have stood out as beacons of light in a sector that is fraught with darkness. They have an admirable record and a wealth of experience that they are willing to share with the rest of Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau should take up the UCC’s offer and utilize the expertise of the Ukrainian Canadian community for the betterment of Canadian society as a whole.