SAULT STE. MARIE – The Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) unveiled last week its multi-billion-dollar plan to overhaul the province’s long-term care (LTC) system if it should win the 2022 provincial election, a plan that will eliminate for-profit LTC facilities and shift to small, community-based centres of no more than 10 residents.
“Every year, the Conservative and Liberal governments have asked you to accept less and less for your loved ones. They’ve cut funding, inspections, and every year the conditions our loved ones endure get worse,” said Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath in a virtual press conference held Wednesday, October 14.
Ms. Horwath’s plan—called ‘Aging Ontarians Deserve the Best’—became the first major part of her party’s 2022 election platform.
The NDP plan seeks to transition all for-profit homes to non-profit or public models over eight years. It aims to reduce the size of future facilities from large, institutionalized models to home-style dwellings for six to 10 people.
In small communities, these small homes could look like a conventional family home; in larger centres, multiple co-located homes could form a neighbourhood of sorts. Each home would have shared dining and common spaces.
The party pledged to boost personal support worker (PSW) wages by $5 per hour over their pre-pandemic levels and committed to giving each resident 4.1 hours of daily hands-on care. It also promised funds for training PSWs and financially supporting family caregivers as members of the care team.
Part of the appeal of smaller facilities, the party said, was that they could reflect patients’ language and cultural backgrounds. The NDP would launch these homes through partnerships with Indigenous nations, communities and LGBTQ2S+ organizations as funding partners.
The NDP’s ambitious plan promised to add 50,000 new beds which will help to clear the 38,000-person waitlist in eight years.
Finally, it said it would increase rigorous inspections and create an independent seniors’ advocate to protect elders in care.
Costing the plan
All of these goals came with a price tag of $12 billion in annual operating costs for the care sector, up from the present $9 billion annual expenditures that encompass LTC, home care, community supports and hospital funding for alternate level of care patients who are waiting for an LTC spot.
The annual operating purse will gradually increase over six years until it reaches the $12 billion target.
Additionally, the hopeful NDP government would invest $750 million each year for eight years in capital expenses, for a total of $6 billion.
“We have to take action now to make sure people are safe in nursing homes and during home care visits throughout the second wave. Then we have to overhaul the system to make seniors’ care not something we dread, something that takes away our quality of life, but something that maintains or improves our quality of life as we age,” said Ms. Horwath.
The provincial party has not discussed collaborations with the federal government at this time for shared funding, citing the uncertainty of which national party may be in power in 2022. Ms. Horwath said she would certainly discuss the plans with the government of the day if and when the time comes, but added the party was “prepared to go it alone if we have to.”
Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha attended the virtual press conference and said he was extremely proud of his party’s new plan.
The community-based facilities would address a concern for people in the North especially: patients having to move hours away from home in search of an LTC opening.
“That has a profound impact on our parents in long-term care. It doesn’t happen as frequently in the bigger cities in southern Ontario and it should never again happen to families in the North. That’s why we’ll build more, small, family-like homes, so people can stay in their own community and stay closer to their family,” the NDP leader said.
She promised to pass legislation that would allow couples to stay together longer, despite the constraints of wait lists or differing care needs.
Families hopeful of plan
Two guest speakers at the press conference shared experiences of having parents in LTC facilities and expressed optimism for the NDP’s proposal.
“I commend so many health workers for their dedication, stamina and their efforts to make life better for those in care. I’m disappointed that the system makes it difficult for them to do their job. It falls so short of what family members expect and what residents deserve,” said Sault Ste. Marie resident Marie DellaVedova, whose mother spent a month in LTC before she died—all before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For me, it’s important that LTC homes become happier, safer places for loved ones to spend their final days. My mom didn’t have that but I hope everyone else will,” she said.
Guest speaker Ellen Eddy, also of Sault Ste. Marie, described her father’s transition into LTC during the COVID-19 crisis. She said her father, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, had to undergo an isolation period in an understaffed environment and it added stress to his and his family’s lives.
“They’re so short-staffed, it’s heartbreaking. (The staff) are doing their best and I really have appreciated the caring and professionalism they put forth in hard times, but his quality of care is questionable now, mostly because of COVID,” said Ms. Eddy.
Implementing the changes
Ms. Horwath explained that the transition from the for-profit model to a not-for-profit model would take place gradually as existing homes’ licences come up for renewal. The prospective NDP government would not permit renewals and instead take over the homes.
She said it may be possible to retrofit some existing facilities to have the six-to-10-person setups inside in a series of pods, following new design standards.
“As I’ve said, these are bold changes but they have to happen. We can’t see further generations of seniors and loved ones go through what we’ve seen happening, especially in the last 25 years,” said Ms. Horwath.
She told reporters that her party based its plan on models in other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands and small parts of the United States that have adopted the village- and home-type atmosphere.
The Expositor asked the party leader about how the proposal would address unexpected staffing shortages due to a worker taking a sick day, for example, if its plan relies on several small facilities spread out across a wide geographic area such as Northern Ontario.
“Part of our plan is to create exactly that scenario where the jobs are well-paid, where they’re full-time, where they have benefits, where they have sick days off and those kinds of pieces. We would make sure that there would be another group of workers, if you’re ill, that are more interested in filling in,” said Ms. Horwath, adding that the fill-in group would cover absences like sick days, maternity or medical leaves.