Ontario government now has the power to take over management of long-term-care homes struggling with COVID-19
May 14, 2020
Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson
Premier Doug Ford now has the power to install new temporary management at long-term-care homes struggling to cope with COVID-19 outbreaks.
On Wednesday, Ford’s Progressive Conservative government invoked an emergency provision “allowing the province to issue a mandatory management order” for nursing homes swamped by coronavirus.
That enables the government to place a temporary manager -- a person, corporation or hospital -- to oversee a long-term care facility.
It does not mean that Queen’s Park is seizing control of long-term-care homes, many of which are privately owned and operated, said Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“The making of this emergency order doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything with it right now. It’s just a tool in our tool box to use if we need it, so we can move in rapidly if there’s some care homes that continue to have problems and are resistant to having assistance,” said Elliott.
“Then we know we will be able to get in there quickly, because we want to save lives.”
There have been 1,269 deaths from COVID-19 in Ontario nursing homes since March, which has also killed some health-care workers in the facilities.
That’s about 70 per cent of the province 1,800 or so deaths. At least 180 of Ontario’s more than 600 nursing homes are currently fighting outbreaks and to date 256 have coped with them.
In the hardest-hit locations, there have been scores of deaths and half the residents infected by the coronavirus.
They include the Altamont Care Community in Scarborough, with 46 deaths and 72 of 159 residents testing positive for COVID-19, and the 247-bed Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke where 40 residents have died and 142 have become infected.
As of Wednesday, there were 2,690 nursing home residents and 1,672 staff with active cases of COVID-19, according to the Ministry of Long-Term Care.
With nursing homes the epicentre of the pandemic in Ontario, Ford said he had to act.
“We are doing everything we can to fortify the iron ring of protection around our long-term-care residents and the heroic front-line staff who care for them,” the premier said.
“By taking this step, we will be better prepared to immediately swing into action if a home is struggling to contain this deadly virus,” he said.
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents most of the homes, said the sector is working closely with the government and hospitals.
“Our first priority must be to stabilize homes with outbreaks, and keep COVID-19 out of the rest,” said Duncan.
Ford has repeatedly acknowledged the system is “broken,” but he has resisted calls from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to call a public inquiry into the long-term-care situation.
Horwath said the government’s move to bolster long-term care should have come much sooner.
“Families who have a parent or grandparent in long-term care in Ontario will no doubt be relieved to learn the government is finally using its power to take over management in these facilities, but many will wonder why their loved ones were left so vulnerable for so long,” said the NDP leader.
“We can’t afford to lose any more days or weeks in the middle of a pandemic when seniors’ and workers’ lives are on the line. Now that we’re moving in the right direction, we need to see swift action to get new leadership into those nursing homes in crisis,” she said.
“Seniors in Ontario and their loved ones deserve to know that when the government says it’s stepping in to take over the management of long-term-care homes, it’s not just handing the reins from one private operator to another. We owe it to families across the province to get this right.”
Del Duca said Ontario is lagging six weeks behind British Columbia, which made a similar to move to tackle the problems in its long-term care sector.
“For weeks the premier has said there was no need for the government to take over long-term-care homes despite pleas from advocates,” the Liberal leader said.
“The framework of what to do was right in front of him -- he only had to look to other provinces who showed leadership in late March and early April,” he said, adding “the iron ring Doug Ford talks about has turned out to be nothing more than empty words.”
“We need concrete action, not slogans, to protect our loved ones.”
Under Ontario’s state of emergency -- in place since March 17 and extended by MPPs on Tuesday until June 2 -- the government has sweeping authority.
According to the Tories, “a long-term-care home may require management assistance if they face challenges like a high number of cases among residents or staff, a high number of deaths, an outbreak that has not yet been resolved, significant staffing issues or outstanding requirements from infection prevention and control assessments.”
“Decisions regarding when and where to assign additional management support will be made on a case-by-case basis,” the government said.
Long-term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton stressed “we are incredibly grateful to long-term-care operators across the province who are working tirelessly each day to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.”
“This is another step we are taking to ensure homes are provided with the support they need at this challenging time to maintain the quality of care our residents deserve,” said Fullerton, a medical doctor before entering politics.
Last month, the government restricted the movement of staff working in multiple facilities to curb the spread of the virus and, with Ottawa, ensure pay raises for staff.As well, hospital “SWAT teams” of nurses have been helping some homes with staff shortages and 250 Canadian Armed Forces medical personnel have been deployed at five hard-hit long-term care homes in the province.