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Ontario ignoring lessons of pandemic, building a generation of private care homes, critics say

Posted: April 24, 2022

(April 22, 2022)

By: Elizabeth Payne, Ottawa Citizen


Critics are accusing the provincial government of ignoring hard-learned lessons of the pandemic after awarding licences for hundreds of new and upgraded long-term care beds in Ottawa to private companies.


Three private long-term care companies, including one with among the highest death rates during the pandemic, are slated to build the bulk of new and upgraded long-term care beds in Ottawa, announced by Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra Thursday.


They include long-term care giant Extendicare, Schlegel Villages and Southbridge Care Homes, which owns Orchard Villa. The Pickering long-term care home was a focus of a scathing military report detailing neglect and suffering of residents during the pandemic after the army was called in to help.


Extendicare and Schlegel also oversaw some homes with high death rates during the pandemic. At one Ottawa Extendicare property, New Orchard Lodge, three people have died in a recent outbreak that began near the end of March with a total of 50 infections, according to Ottawa Public Health. All three companies are facing lawsuits from families of residents. The Ottawa Hospital took on oversight of two hard-hit Extendicare homes in the city during the pandemic.


During two press conferences in Ottawa on Thursday, Calandra announced funding for 681 new and 599 upgraded beds across Ottawa, some of 31,705 new and 28,648 beds the province has committed to build across the province as part of its sweeping plan to renew the long-term care sector.


He called the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to rebuild the long-neglected long-term care sector historic, saying it has been ignored for too long.


But critics point to evidence that residents of for-profit homes, especially large chains and those with high profit margins, have worse outcomes than those living in not-for-profit or municipally run homes. That was the case during the pandemic.


Ontario, which had one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in long-term care in the world, also has one of the highest proportions of for-profit homes in the country, noted  Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term care advocate and associate teaching professor at Ontario Tech University.


“It is so incredibly telling that the province that has the highest proportion of for-profit is now being positioned to further increase that stronghold post-pandemic, even after everything we have learned and the glaring evidence against for-profit,” she said.


“It is so beyond the pale that they continue to reward some of the worst bad actors.”


Calandra, in answer to a question, said the government is doing what hasn’t been done in the past — build new homes and beds. “We are going to work with all partners — private sector, not-for-profit and municipal sector — because we have a huge job to do in order to build long-term care and continue to tackle the waiting list.”


He said changes put in place to improve transparency and accountability in the sector, along with more staffing and desperately needed state of the art homes designed to limit spread of infection, will create a better system of care.


“By and large, governments have failed the sector, not the other way around.”


One hundred and twenty of the new beds and 71 of the redeveloped beds announced Thursday will be built at the not-for-profit Bruyère Long-Term Care Home located in Orléans.


The majority of the new and redeveloped beds will go to three private operators: 48 new and 272 redeveloped beds at Extendicare Ottawa in the west end, 256 redeveloped beds at Extendicare Ottawa in Nepean, 320 new beds at Schlegel Villages-Ottawa, which will be part of a campus of care to be built on what is the current site of the Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital and 192 new beds at Southbridge Ottawa.


Those are just some of the 1,546 new and 1,480 upgraded beds allocated across Ottawa by the provincial government. The majority of those will also be built by private companies. Schlegel Village will also build at the Riverside campus of The Ottawa Hospital.


“This much needed additional capacity will support patient flow throughout the entire region’s health-care system, ensuring that patients receive access to the most appropriate care for their needs,” The Ottawa Hospital said in a statement. It added that the Civic “will continue to contribute to the health of our community, for years to come, as the future site of a long-term care facility.” No other details were available.


Extendicare will replace all five of its long-term care homes in Ottawa with modern facilities. The two projects approved Thursday are part of that.


President and CEO Dr. Michael Guerriere said the new homes will serve residents in larger care environments “that will enhance privacy, care delivery and quality of life.”


There is a desperate need for long-term care beds across the province with months-long waiting lists. Calandra said Thursday the province is building homes in communities that have never had them before. The province says it has already invested $2.68 billion to develop new and upgraded long-term care beds and plans to invest an additional $3.7 billion beginning in 2024-25.


Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said homes with the worst records during the pandemic were not fined or held accountable and now some of them are benefiting from new long-term care licences.


“How is that even possible?”


The Ontario NDP has vowed to phase out for-profit long-term care if it is elected.


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