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Ontario PCs pass bill to reform long-term care in the province

Posted: December 8, 2021

(December 7, 2021)

By: Charlie Pinkerton, iPolitics

Bill 37, the Progressive Conservatives’ legislation that seeks to improve long-term care in Ontario, was tabled by Minister Rod Phillips, pictured in the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 5, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

A Progressive Conservative bill to reform parts of Ontario’s long-term care system was passed by MPPs on Tuesday.

The government has been promising for months to pass legislation to improve the lives of nursing-home residents. More than 4,400 have died since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Changes made by Bill 37 include:

  • Ontario’s minister for long-term care (LTC) must set annual targets that lead to every resident receiving four hours of personal care per day by 2024-25.
  • Provincial inspectors and directors will have more powers.
  • Operators of unsafe or neglectful homes can now be fined up to $1 million, and banned from providing LTC.

The legislation, which passed 46-24 in the legislature, was divisive.

Proponents of the bill — including the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents about 70 per cent of the province’s LTC homes — say it empowers nursing-home residents, and will hold homes to a higher standard.

Its critics — including those in the elected opposition, and the Ontario Health Coalition, which advocates for improvements to publicly funded health care — have said it’s toothless, will allow more private operators in the sector, and it’s little more than a rehash of the bill it’s replacing.

Fixing Ontario’s LTC system

The foundation of Ontario’s current LTC system can be traced back about 25 years, when the former Progressive Conservative (PC) government led by Mike Harris made the sector friendlier to private operators.

Under his government, that of his PC successor Ernie Eves, and successive Liberal ones, long wait times, inadequate care, staffing problems, and insufficient accountability worsened.

The pandemic was a breaking point — and one for which Premier Doug Ford’s government was unprepared.

Just over a month after the World Health Organization declared COVID a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, the Ontario government asked the Canadian Armed Forces for help in its nursing homes. In April, military personnel were dispatched to seven homes that had been pushed to their limits.

Disturbed by what they saw, the military described horrifying conditions to the federal government in reports that were later published.

Since COVID was first detected in Ontario, 4,430 long-term care residents have died after being infected, amounting to 44 per cent of the province’s 10,036 COVID deaths — even though LTC residents make up just 0.5 per cent of Ontario’s population.

Ford has said he takes “responsibility” for the disaster and will fix the system.

Along with passing Bill 37, the PC government has also announced major spending to add beds and staff.

It’s already dedicated $2.7 billion for 30,000 more beds by 2028, and to upgrade another 28,000, and says if it remains in government, it will spend $3.7 billion more, starting in 2024-25.

The PCs have also promised to spend $4.9 billion to hire 27,000 full-time LTC staff — including nurses, personal support workers (PSWs), and other support staff — over the next four years.

If the New Democrats are elected in the spring, they plan to spend $3.75 billion per year until the end of the decade to make the province’s long-term care system entirely government-operated. The party also says it would add 50,000 new beds and hire more full-time workers who are better paid.

The Ontario Liberal Party hasn’t yet released its LTC plan, which will be part of its June 2022 election platform.

Nor has the Green Party of Ontario released its plan for the sector, but it says on its website that: the system “must be overhauled to put care and compassion over profit”; residents must get four hours of personal care a day; and PSWs’ pay must be increased.

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