Nearly 4,000 Ontarians have died in long-term care homes because of COVID-19. It prompted a new independent commission to investigate the subject at Queen’s Park that returned several recommendations this past spring, and on Thursday the government announced the legislative plan to act on those recommendations. Still, all the opposition leaders are suspicious about whether today’s bill is the change everyone was seeking.
“Ontario has listened to the advice of the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission and the Auditor General — as well as residents, their families, the public and those working in the sector,” said Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips in a statement. “After decades of neglect and underfunding by previous governments, we are fixing long-term care. This legislation, if passed, would protect our progress by supporting our commitments to increase staffing for more hours of direct care, enhance accountability, and build more modern beds.”
Platitudes aside, the Providing More Care, Protecting Seniors, and Building More Beds Act would repeal the current Long-Term Care Homes Act, and make amendments to the Retirement Homes Act. According to the Ontario government, the plan is built on three pillars: Staffing and care; accountability, enforcement, and transparency; and building modern, safe, comfortable homes for seniors.
The new bill will answer long time calls from care advocates like four hours of daily direct care per resident per day, and the bill promises to have that in place for every long-term care home by March 31, 2025. The bill will also align the Residents’ Bill of Rights to the Ontario Human Rights Code, will implement new requirements for annual surveys, and establishing new compliance and enforcement tools including doubling the fines on the conviction of an offence under the proposed legislation.
The one thing that the bill won’t do is perhaps the most vital recommendation from the long-term care commission: That the for-profit companies building the facilities should not be in the business of providing care for residents.
“It’s shameful that Doug Ford is continuing to reward for-profit long-term care operators instead of taking the urgent action needed to improve the lives of seniors living in care,” said Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath in a statement.
“This bill does not change the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities. It does not give them more care. It does not change the fact that for-profit companies can warehouse them in facilities, and cut corners to rake in more cash,” Horwath added. “This bill does not change jobs in long-term care to full time jobs with pay and benefits. It doesn’t even guarantee them the air conditioning they’ve been suffering without.”
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner called the legislation a “band-aid” and said that the legislation does not go far enough.
“We need to prioritize care over profits by phasing out for-profit LTC homes, and we need to improve the poor working conditions and pay that are driving the staffing shortage in LTC. We know quality of work directly affects quality of care,” Schreiner said. “We have to do better. Elders deserve better.”
“Instead of the landmark changes Ontarians are demanding, Doug Ford announced he is doing nothing to support the expansion of not-for-profit care and isn’t acting on many of the Long-Term Care Commission’s recommendations,” added Liberal leader Steven Del Duca.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Ontario government in terms of reaction to the legislation. The Ontario Long-Term Care Association, which represents 70 per cent of homes in the province, said that they think the bill is something they can work with.
“We are pleased to see that the legislation lays the foundation for a modernized long-term care system focused on residents, their needs, and their quality of life. It is our hope that the new legislation will help to create a climate of stability and confidence among residents, families, staff, and the public,” said. Donna Duncan, the CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association.
“OLTCA submitted comprehensive recommendations to the Ontario Government. Our recommendations were developed through broad consultation with our members, resident and family representatives, and health and social system partners, and are focused on changes to the legislative and regulatory framework that will enable homes to provide the best possible care and living environment to residents,” Duncan added. “We look forward to reviewing the government’s proposed new legislation and working together with government and our partners in labour, education, and the broader health system to build a renewed lonq-term care system.”