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Province will renew Scarborough nursing homes where COVID-19 took scores of lives

Posted: December 18, 2021

(December 17, 2021)

By: Mike Adler,

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has approved upgrades and expansions for Scarborough nursing homes whose residents suffered devastating COVID-19 outbreaks.

At Altamont Care Community, where 53 residents died of the disease in 2020, Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips on Dec. 10 announced a new nursing home on the property would have 448 beds instead of the current 159.

And after a six-storey addition, Midland Gardens Care Community, where 43 residents died, will have 21 new and 299 upgraded beds.

“When these projects are completed, two new long-term-care homes in Scarborough will provide a safe, modern, comfortable place for residents to call home, near their family and friends,” Phillips added in a release.

In earlier announcements, the government announced two new and 254 upgraded beds at Tendercare Living Centre, where 81 COVID-19 deaths occurred, and 128 new beds at Scarborough’s Hellenic Home, where 21 people died.

Three of the planned upgrades were criticized by the Ontario Health Coalition because — apart from the Hellenic Home, run by a charity — they are tied to 30-year license renewals for companies running nursing homes for profit.

“They’re essentially taking public money and making private profit from it,” said Ross Sutherland, the coalition’s chairperson.

The group argues non-profit homes provide better care and there’s no reason for-profit homes should exist, but the government disagrees, said Sutherland, charging this is due to “an ideological bent, and it’s not based on science.”

A coalition news release last month quoted Doris Wai, whose grandmother died during the 2021 Tendercare outbreak, suggesting the home’s owners don’t deserve a renewal: “They failed to provide the necessities for life and the craziest thing is that they are being rewarded for it,” she said.

Altamont, the Hellenic Home and Tendercare are what the province calls C-bed nursing homes, built to the standards of 1972. Such homes, because of features such as three or four-bed ward rooms, often found isolating residents who contracted COVID-19 especially difficult.

Canadian Forces personnel were sent to Altamont after conditions at the home deteriorated during the outbreak.

Midland Gardens is considered a B home, ahead of 1972 standards but behind contemporary ones.

Sienna Senior Living, which owns Altamont and Midland Gardens, said those homes, when rebuilt, will include only private and semiprivate rooms.

“Gathering spaces will reflect a homelike setting and outdoor areas will provide the opportunity to connect with nature. From both a safety and holistic health perspective, seniors will thrive in our new communities,” the company said in a Dec. 13 statement.

Altamont, to be renamed Altamont Scarborough, will combine 204 upgraded beds in a new building with a previous allocation of 85 new beds and 159 upgraded beds, Sienna said.

Sienna said Midland Gardens will be “completely retrofitted” and will have a total of 320 beds, compared to 299 today, plus 54 new seniors’ apartments, “in order to provide more affordable housing options in Scarborough.”

First phases of construction are expected to start at Midland Gardens in fall 2022 and at Altamont in spring 2023.

Both nursing homes will be rebuilt as part of “a campus of care” with Scarborough Health Network, an arrangement which will “integrate the homes into the broader health-care system and ensures residents have access to the care they need,” the province said.

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