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They were the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic: So how did Ontario’s for-profit long-term-care homes manage to secure so many of their business goals?

Posted: July 15, 2021

(July 15, 2021)

By: Richard Warnica

As part of a series on how businesses have swayed the decisions made by the Ford government during the COVID-19 crisis, the Star created a database of every active lobbying registration in Ontario in March 2021, a year into the pandemic. The results revealed a clear pattern. Among the lobbyists with the most registered clients, an overwhelming majority had open ties to the premier, his party or both. Some worked on conservative campaigns or for conservative ministers. Many were long-time friends and allies of Ford.

But those numbers only tell half the story. It’s not just about who lobbied. It’s about the policies they pushed for and the success they’ve had. A Star analysis of the lobbying data, as well as interviews with lobbyists, political insiders and industry experts, shows that lobbyists were able to deliver for their clients again and again during the pandemic, including those in long-term care.

As a result of that lobbying, critics charge, long-term-care companies have largely been able to dodge responsibility for the death and suffering that took place in their homes. They’ve also been able, some industry analysts believe, to set themselves up — with enthusiastic government support — for decades of future profits thanks to generous new long-term-care bed allocations.

The office of Ontario’s minister of long-term care did not reply to questions about lobbying during the pandemic for this story. In a statement, Macey Aramburo, a spokesperson for the ministry, said the allocations went to projects that best met provincial criteria, including financial viability, cultural needs and location.

Aramburo added that an allocation does not guarantee a licence. (That involves a separate evaluation process.) She also pointed out that almost two thirds of the new beds and more than a third of the upgraded beds have been allocated to municipal or non-profit homes.

“At this unprecedented time, it is crucial that we continue to ensure those who are on the wait list for long-term care receive that care as soon as possible,” Aramburo wrote. “We are grateful for the Long-Term Care Commission’s recommendations and will continue to review the final recommendations carefully while providing regular updates on their progress to the public.”

But all of that is cold comfort to some critics. “If there was anything that we thought would happen from this, from the spotlight on long-term care, from the pressure on government, from the horrific outcomes, it was that they would actually, finally get the care levels up to something safe, and hold the homes accountable for their behaviour, for how they operate and the priorities that they choose,” said Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “And instead, the opposite has happened.”

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