The Ford government gave itself powers Wednesday morning to appoint new management of long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19. Opposition parties criticized the PCs for waiting this long, as the disease has caused the deaths of 1,269 long-term care residents in the province so far.
The order does not give the government the power to take over facilities on its own, a spokesperson for Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said.
Officials can now issue a "mandatory management order" for facilities. Spokesperson Gillian Sloggett said the order is aimed at homes facing a high number of cases or deaths among residents or staff or persistent staffing issues, or those that haven't met public health requirements. The new management could be any person, including a corporation or a hospital.
Under the Long-Term Care Homes Act, the government has always had the power to order a facility to retain new management if the facility is not in compliance with the Act, or if its current management "cannot or will not properly manage the long-term care home, or cannot do so without assistance."
While the Act only requires that the new management be "acceptable" to the province, the new powers give the government the power to directly appoint that new management.
The salary cost of the temporary management will be the home's responsibility, not the province's, Sloggett said.
"We are doing everything we can to fortify the iron ring of protection around our long-term care residents and the heroic frontline staff who care for them," Premier Doug Ford 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."
The Tories have faced criticism in recent weeks for waiting this long to implement the measure. Critics have pointed to British Columbia, whose chief medical officer of health assumed responsibility for nursing care staff in the Vancouver region on March 31, and province-wide by April 5.
“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,” Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said in a release.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Ford "has stood idle while other leaders have acted."
"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 in a statement. "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."
Green Leader Mike Schreiner called the government's response "delayed and contradictory."
"While other provinces boosted staff pay, restricted staff movement, called in the military, and took over struggling homes, Ontario waited until the last minute to do the same," he said in a statement (though as Sloggett pointed out, Ontario still does not have the ability to directly take over homes).
Schreiner repeated a call for a full public inquiry on the matter, instead of the "review" the goverment has committed to.
Ford pushed back on the idea that the government has been slow to respond. "We're responding rapidly day by day and through the advice of our chief medical officer," he said at his daily afternoon press conference on Wednesday.
"We're taking this action today because up until now it really hasn't been necessary," said Health Minister Christine Elliott, pointing to "incredible cooperation" on assistance and supervision between hospitals, long-term care homes and public health units.
"So the making of this emergency order doesn't mean that we're going to do anything with it right now. It's just a tool in our toolbox to use if we need it," she said.
The NDP pushed back on the idea that long-term care facilities have been cooperative, noting that a statement of claim filed in a class-action lawsuit on April 24 says the for-profit Anson Place Care Centre, where 23 residents have died, refused the province’s offer of a “SWAT” team, saying that with its current staffing levels, it was “comfortable that we are currently able to meet the care needs of our residents.”
The same claim states that residents with symptoms of COVID-19 at Eatonville Care Centre Facility were not tested for several days, reportedly due to the lack of testing swabs, despite management's knowledge of an outbreak. Forty residents have died at the facility.
And on April 23, the Superior Court ordered private long-term care homes to comply with the union's interpretation of provincial health directives concerning protective equipment, staffing levels and other safety measures.
Horwath also said it's concerning that "corporations" could be put in charge of long-term care homes, noting the higher death toll in for-profit facilities during the pandemic compared to non-profits.
Elliott said the language was so that hospitals could be put in charge of homes, since they are technically corporations — though the government's release says new management could be "a corporation or a hospital," apparently differentiating between the two.