Ontario latest province to look at controlling management of some long-term care homes

Reported by: Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Ontario government now has an emergency power to control the management of privately run long-term care homes as the COVID-19 outbreak affecting Canada’s most vulnerable seniors continues.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the order Wednesday morning, saying in a statement it will mean Ontario is better prepared to “immediately swing into action if a home is struggling to contain this deadly virus.”

Ontario is the latest province to take such measures, following Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, all of which have seized control of private seniors’ homes in recent weeks.

Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton rejected calls to take over management of some specific care homes just a few weeks ago, though she said the province was open to co-ordinating management teams to go in and help when necessary.

Long-term care homes have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday about 20 per cent of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada are linked to long-term care homes, but more than 80 per cent of the people who have died from COVID-19 were seniors living in the homes.

Ontario reports it has 180 homes with COVID-19 outbreaks. At least 1,269 Ontario long-term care residents have died of COVID-19, as have several staff members.

On Tuesday, the Kensington Village home in London, Ont., reported the death of a nurse who worked there.

The issue of long-term care management had been on the radar in many provinces before the COVID-19 pandemic. British Columbia began taking control of several homes run by one company in February, alleging the private operator was not meeting legislated standards of care.

Alberta and Quebec have also taken control of some homes in recent weeks, and Quebec Premier Francois Legault mused recently that perhaps the private-ownership model needed rethinking.

Canada sent in more than 1,000 members of the military to help staff long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario, with thousands of nurses and health care workers out sick or requiring isolation because of COVID-19.

Federal aid programs for the pandemic crisis will turn to regional aid for small businesses today, with nearly $1 billion expected to be dispensed.

The government announced several weeks ago the creation of a new Regional Relief and Recovery Fund but did not reveal much in the way of detail, apart from the overall amount of $962 million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly are expected to fill in some of the blanks today, including how much money each of the six regional agencies — for the West, North, Atlantic, Quebec and northern and southern Ontario — are to receive and what each plans to do with it.

Each agency is expected to take a somewhat different approach to its share of the fund, targeting small businesses most in need in each region.

Overall, the fund is to commit $675 million to support regional economies, businesses, organizations and communities and another $287 million to support the national network of community futures development corporations, which are to specifically target small businesses and rural communities across the country.

The fund is intended to cushion the financial blow experienced by businesses and organizations to allow them to continue their operations, including paying their employees, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also intended to support projects by businesses, organizations and communities to prepare for a successful recovery.

The money, to flow through the regional development agencies, is on top of other measures the federal government has announced to help small businesses weather the pandemic, which has shut down non-essential businesses for almost two months.

Other measures include the 75 per cent wage subsidy, 75 per cent commercial rent relief, loan guarantees and interest-free loans of up to $40,000.

Trudeau has faced opposition criticism that the various measures still leave out many businesses that don’t meet the eligibility rules.

He is likely to face more of that criticism today when a several dozen MPs gather for the once-a-week in-person sitting of the House of Commons.

Following a lengthy question and answer session, the Commons is expected to debate and quickly approve legislation that will authorize the Dairy Commission of Canada to increase its borrowing capacity by $200 million.

The commission’s additional borrowing power is intended to help it support the cost of storing butter and cheese while the market for such products is severely reduced due to the pandemic, which has closed restaurants, hotels and other institutions that typically purchase large volumes of dairy products.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.   

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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