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Real long-term care reform demands more than finger-pointing and spin

Posted: July 20, 2020

(July 19, 2020) 

By: Keith Leslie, The Spec

Premier Doug Ford promises to improve the conditions in Ontario’s long term care homes that led to the deaths of 1,730 residents and eight staff during the pandemic, but he won’t discuss the role of private corporations.

This week, Ford announced a new funding model to get more LTC beds built faster than previous government programs, but the actual funding was a two-year-old reannouncement.

Ford pledged $1.75 billion to build 8,000 new LTC beds and redevelop 12,000 old ones over five years, but in 2018, he announced the same $1.75 billion to create 15,000 new beds and renovate 15,000 others.

Taxpayers get less, but corporations get more cash to speed up construction. For example, a company that would have received $31.4 million to build a mid-sized nursing home would get $38 million under the new model.

The New Democrats call it a Progressive Conservative “commitment to shovel cash into the private sector, where they can cut corners and pocket the difference.” They have a point.

The profits have to come from somewhere, and that usually means lower staffing levels. COVID-19 quickly turned a long-standing staffing shortage into a crisis still not addressed.

Perception is everything in politics, and there are some very close ties between the Progressive Conservative party and private long term care operators. Former premiers Bill Davis, Mike Harris and Ernie Eves all LTC corporate boards.

Harris is paid $237,000 a year as Chairman of the Board at Chartwell Retirement Residences, the biggest private chain of LTC homes in Canada. Former PC staffers from Doug Ford’s office, and those of some key PC cabinet ministers, now work as lobbyists for the LTC sector.

After vowing in the July heat wave to track down owners who don’t have air conditioning in their LTC homes, Ford announced a special fund to make sure they install cooling systems. The Ontario Health Coalition rightly says for profit-homes that take millions out each year in dividends should not get more public money to renovate their own assets.

When asked why he just didn’t tell private operators to install air conditioning, Ford punted the question to Long Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton, who said the PC’s focus was residents, not ownership.

Ford doesn’t want to talk about the role of for-profit corporations in LTC, despite research showing they “are likely to produce inferior outcomes” compared with non-profits. But he does want to blame previous governments for the sector’s systemic problems.

The PCs claim the Liberals built only 611 LTC beds between 2011 and 2018. However, the Liberals say they created 14,560 new beds and redeveloped another 15,700 between 2003 and 2018, and allocated funding for another 5,000 that Ford’s Tories haven’t built.

They’re playing numbers games with LTC beds during a pandemic.

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