TORONTO — Ontario plans to spend $933 million to create more beds in long-term care and upgrade facilities in the sector that's been devastated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money will go toward 80 projects and will help create 7,510 new beds in long-term care, upgrade 4,197 existing spaces, and reduce waitlists, the government announced Thursday.
Premier Doug Ford called the initiative "historic," and said the projects would provide seniors with "the safe and modern living spaces they deserve."
The funding is part of the government's commitment to add 30,00 new long-term care beds over a decade.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the province's 2021 budget - set to be tabled next week - "will build on our commitment to protect our seniors and provide the highest quality of care for loved ones when and where they need it."
Some of the projects include upgrades to older homes stemming from "lessons learned" around infection prevention and control during the pandemic, the government said, "particularly the elimination of three- and four-bed rooms."
Others projects will focus on adding beds to high-need area, creating spaces specifically for francophone and Indigenous communities and specialized care.
The government also announced it would extend a $3 wage increase for approximately 50,000 eligible personal-support workers in long-term care until June 30.
Ontario long-term care homes were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 3,752 resident deaths and 11 staff deaths reported as of Thursday. More than 21,000 cases have been reported since the pandemic began.
A commission probing the government's handling of the situation in long-term care during the pandemic is preparing a report with recommendations that's expected at the end of April.
The Ontario Long Term Care Association applauded the new funding, saying it would expand the system and address overcrowded buildings that were "a root cause of the tragedy experienced through COVID-19."
"Ontario’s long-term care homes are ready to work with government, and other partners, to complete these projects and provide added supports to seniors as soon as possible," CEO Donna Duncan said in a statement.
The head of the Ontario Registered Nurses' Association said the funding is significant but investments should also be made in homecare services.
"It's great that we are strengthening long-term care. We need to equally strengthen homecare so people actually have a choice to stay home, and then you will need likely less spaces in long term care," CEO Doris Grinspun said in an interview.
She also expressed hope that some of the new beds would be in modern, more home-like designs rather than hospital-style care.
"We need to modernize not only in funding, which is welcome, we need to modernize how we conceptualize the care of the elderly when they need extra support," she said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner welcomed the announcement but noted that the 10-year commitment to create 30,000 beds falls short of the actual demand.
“I’ve been pushing Ford to commit more funding to long-term care. And while I support more investment in new projects, this falls far short of what is needed," Schreiner said in a statement.
"We need to care for elders with dignity and respect by prioritizing care over profits and investing in four hours of care per day for every (long-term care) resident now, not four years from now.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press