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Provincial funding cuts will affect services at city’s long-term care homes, mayor says

Posted: July 25, 2019

By: Elizabeth Payne, Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is calling on the Ontario government to reverse funding cuts that will leave the city’s four municipal long-term care homes half a million dollars in debt this year, and more than a million in debt by 2020.

Garry J Armstrong long term care on Island Lodge Road in Ottawa. Photo by Jean Levac JEAN LEVAC

The cuts, which take effect Aug. 1, will leave the city “with the choice of having to cut services or else transfer the cost to municipal taxpayers,” Watson wrote in a letter to Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

Ottawa operates four long-term care homes, serving 717 residents.

The Progressive Conservative government announced in the spring budget that it would end several funding streams for long-term care. The funding cuts, Watson said, will have a significant impact on Ottawa’s municipal long-term care homes: Carleton Lodge, Centre d’accueil Champlain, Garry J. Armstrong Home and the Peter D. Clark Centre.

The province told municipalities the changes were being made to maximize administrative savings, modernize services and eliminate duplication.

The two programs being eliminated were initially designed to help older long-term care homes cope with higher staff wages and structural issues, but Watson said the money had been required to directly fund operations in the homes.

“Therefore, eliminating these two funding streams will have a serious impact on the direct care and services provided to residents.”

The province, which has committed to ending hallway medicine, says it has committed to 15,000 new long-term care spaces over the next five years.

Watson says new beds can’t be created “at the risk of decreasing current levels of services in existing homes, including services for the 717 residents who depend on the City of Ottawa homes for their care.”

Ottawa is not the only municipality concerned about the end of two funding programs that helped support municipal long-term care homes. Watson wants the province to either reverse the program cuts or add the funding to per diem amounts that allow long-term care homes to operate.

The Ontario Health Coalition says municipalities will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding with the cuts, adding more pressure to an already stressed system.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, says city-run long-term care homes across the province are facing deficits.

“Some of the homes are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of this, this is really significant.”

Mehra noted that municipalities were already facing increased costs because of provincial cuts to paramedic and public health services. Cuts to long-term care represent another financial burden, she said.

Mehra said the program cuts came on top of budgets that were not keeping up with inflation and growing staff shortages.

“Long-term care funding is not adequate to meet existing needs.”

Staffing shortages contribute to high levels of violence in long-term care homes, Mehra said, because staff is unable to deal with residents with increasingly acute needs, including behaviour issues and dementia.

Adam Cotter, spokesperson for Fullerton, said in a statement that funding models developed 10 years ago “aren’t adequately meeting the changing needs of Ontario’s long-term care homes.

“As our government invests $72 million more this year in long-term care homes, we are working with our partners in the sector to help ensure that they can realize the maximum value of this funding. That means cutting red tape where responsible and offering homes more flexibility to allocate their funding to priority areas.”

The changes, he said, will help long-term care homes be “more responsive” to their residents’ needs.

Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre and the NDP critic for Accessibility, Persons with Disabilities and Seniors’ Affairs, said the province’s long-term care homes were “already understaffed and under-resourced, leaving residents waiting for help even with the basics, like getting to the bathroom.

“Doug Ford’s cuts will force residents to wait longer and make do with less care and attention, and the frontline workers already run off their feet will be expected to do more with even less,” Harden added. “The NDP has been fighting for a find-and-fix inquiry that will get at the root causes of problems in care homes — including neglect and violence. We believe the solution should include a new care standard where residents can be offered at least four hours of hands-on care and attention per day.”

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