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Provincial subsidy for seniors’ homes falls short: Critics

Almost half of long term care homes are earmarked for updgrades by 2025.
Nov. 7, 2016
By Peter Goffin

Almost half of all long term seniors’ care homes in Ontario need to be rebuilt or renovated, but government subsidies to help them do so are falling short, says a new industry report.

The Ontario Long Term Care Association is calling for the province to abolish municipal development fees for care homes, and to ensure that construction subsidies keep pace with inflation.

“We need to renew 300-plus homes and the current program won’t get us there in entirety,” said Candace Chartier, head of the OLTCA, which represents over two thirds of the private, public and non-profit care homes in Ontario.

On Monday, the organization released Building Better Long-Term Care: Priorities to keep Ontario from failing its seniors, a submission to the Ontario government’s 2017 budget plan.

Many of Ontario’s older care homes, built in the 1960s or 70s, house residents in rooms with three or four beds, and have shared washrooms and two or three baths in one “tub room.”

Under the province’s new guidelines, long term care homes feature fewer beds per room, wider hallways to accommodate wheelchairs, and a greater dining facility-to-resident ratio.

In February 2015, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced that it would help renovate approximately 300 of the 629 care homes in the province by 2025, to “bring them up to the highest design standards.”

Under 2014’s Enhanced Long-Term Care Renewal Strategy, the Ministry subsidizes the construction of new care homes and renovations of existing ones at a rate of $16.65 to $23.03 per bed, per day.

But, the OLTCA says, the government subsidy does not keep pace with inflation rates connected to the cost of construction, meaning that the cost of redeveloping care homes.

Taken with municipal development fees - which can charge tens of thousands of dollars per bed for new constructions - renewing long term care homes could be prohibitively high for owners and operators.

Less than 20 percent of Ontario’s care homes have expressed a willingness to take on a construction project, says the OLTCA report.

“When the subsidy was announced in 2014 (it was) great,” said Chartier. “But what we’re saying is, revisit it … It needs to grow incrementally to reference the growth in the cost of construction.”

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said the redevelopment of long-term care homes is a “key priority,” which is why it raised its construction subsidy in 2014 and extended care home licenses by five years for homes that renovate.

“We made these changes after consultations with operators and we are extremely proud and excited to see the next 30,000 beds being re-developed,” said Shae Greenfield, a spokesperson from the minister’s office.

As the licenses to operate older homes near their expiry dates, owners will have to decide between paying to update the homes or get out of the business altogether, said Chartier.

Residents will never have to go homeless, Chartier added; rather, the government would likely launch a bidding process to find a new operator to take the homes on.

But the OLTCA and others say the bottom line is that seniors should not have to wait a decade for the quality of care homes, and their own quality of life, to improve.

“From a residents’ perspective, we just need to be assured that the funding, wherever it comes from, is in place so … that residents don’t feel like it won’t happen in their lifetime,” said Dee Lender, executive director of the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils.

There is an urgent need to improve older care homes now, added Lender, whose organization represents resident groups from every long term care home in Ontario.

Chartier stressed the need for preparation as the Baby Boomer generation begins to enter its seventies.

“The biggest issue is, over the next 10 years, there’s going to be twice as many seniors in Ontario over the age of 75,” said Chartier. “If we don’t improve things today, and we aren’t even thinking about how to handle the needs of tomorrow, then we’re going to be in trouble.”