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Doug Ford’s government is betraying us on the long-term care of our most vulnerable citizens

Posted: December 6, 2021

(December 5, 2021)

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Crosses are seen in April 2021 outside an Ontario long-term-care home, placed as a reminder of those lost inside the facility as COVID-19 swept through care homes in 2020.

Crosses are seen in April 2021 outside an Ontario long-term-care home, placed as a reminder of those lost inside the facility as COVID-19 swept through care homes in 2020.  RICK MADONIK / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Many of us hoped that the cascade of horrific deaths suffered by thousands of long-term-care residents during the pandemic could, at least, be an ugly “gift.”

When Ontario reached 10,000 deaths from COVID-19 last week, it wasn’t widely noted that residents of long-term-care homes accounted for 40 per cent of that grim tally.

Surely, significant reform to long-term care in Ontario would be the one good thing that could result from the tragedies that we witnessed.

After all, the pandemic threw into sharp relief the staffing and care problems that plagued these institutions long before the emergence of the pandemic — problems that the Star has exposed and documented in a series of stellar investigations over many years.

But Doug Ford’s government is betraying us when it comes to the care of our most vulnerable citizens.

The Ford government plans to renege on its one key promise — that care for vulnerable residents would, in four years, increase to four hours a day from the current two hours and 45 minutes.

The Ontario government’s proposed legislation — the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, 2021 — specifies that the four hours of care is a “target” (not a requirement) to be achieved by 2025.

The legislation sets no minimum for care hours. Further, the proposed act spells out that the target hours of care are to be an average of the hours of care offered in all long-term-care homes.

What’s wrong with that? Well, municipally run and non-profit long-term-care homes in Ontario already provide more than two hours and 45 minutes of care for each resident. Prospective residents know this. That’s why, as Ontario’s own Long-Term Care COVID 19 Commission noted, the wait lists for municipal and non-profit homes are much longer than those for for-profit facilities.

Municipal and non-profit homes will likely continue to provide the most hours of care. The result? Long-term homes run on a for-profit basis, which are beholden to investors and shareholders, will be free to offer fewer than the average of the “target” four hours of care.

Far from introducing reform, Ontario is enshrining the status quo. The majority of long-term-care licenses are being awarded to the for-profit companies that had higher COVID death rates than their non-profit and municipal counterparts. Overall, 16,304 out of a total of 30,436 long-term-care licenses are to be awarded to for-profit providers, a Ontario Health Council report notes.

It’s impossible not to take all this personally. The scene is being set, now, for the type of facilities that will exist for three more decades. Chances are excellent that I’ll be dead long before 2051, but there’s also a chance that I, and my older friends, might need 24-hour institutional care before we die. We can’t all be admitted to municipal homes.

And have we forgotten? By mid-2021, Canada had highest proportion of long-term-care deaths of any G20 country, and it spent on average 30 per cent less on this care than its counterparts.

Shame on this Ontario government.

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