Calling the warehousing of seniors in long-term care homes “one of the greatest mistakes” of the last century, Ontario’s Liberals are pledging a multibillion-dollar shift to caring for the elderly in their own homes as long as possible, the Star has learned .
The $2-billion “home-care-first” plan would provide more supports to seniors who could move on to smaller, more-homestyle facilities when they need higher levels of care, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in an interview Monday.
To that end, a Liberal government would build 30,000 new spaces for seniors and modernize 28,000 existing beds to create hundreds of smaller nursing homes. All for-profit long-term care facilities would be bought out by 2028 and transferred to non-profit operators in the wake of higher COVID-19 death rates at for-profit centers.
“I am determined to revolutionize how we treat our seniors in this province,” Del Duca told the Star as he prepares for the June 2 provincial election. “This is a once-in-a-generation transformational investment.”
Purchasing the for-profit homes — which account for more than half of the 626 long-term care facilities in Ontario — would cost $2 billion annually until 2028, according to party estimates. Licenses of for-profit nursing homes would not be renewed as they expire after 2023.
There would also be 15,000 more assisted living homes for seniors, an extended tax credit for seniors to renovate their homes to make them safer to live in, and more frequent payouts of money to caregivers from existing tax credits, which would be made tax- free.
Del Duca took aim at a recent string of announcements by Premier Doug Ford’s government about new nursing homes, some of them fast-tracked, which will provide thousands more beds to ease waiting lists and prepare for growing numbers of seniors.
“That is perpetuating a system that is actually putting our parents and grandparents at risk,” the Liberal leader said. “We need to do this in a completely different way.”
Under his plan, 400,000 additional seniors would get home care within four years — including help with showers, cooking and taking medicine.
Average hours of daily hands-on care for nursing home residents would rise to four “as soon as possible,” something Ford has not promised until 2025 because of the challenges in training thousands more nurses and personal support workers to do the job.
Del Duca acknowledged the new vision for eldercare is “ambitious” and comes amid a shortage of home care and nursing home workers he hopes to ease with better pay. Care levels in nursing homes now average just under three hours per resident daily for things like toileting, feeding, grooming and dressing.
The difference from the Ford plan for long-term care means voters face a “stark choice,” he said.
But the Liberal proposal for nursing homes with smaller, more home-like settings is similar to an election platform plan first released by Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats 18 months ago to end hospital-style long-term care. She also pledged to ban for-profit corporations from long-term care and increase home care.
New Democrats released their full election platform Monday, becoming the first party to do so in advance of the June 2 campaign’s official start on May 4. Horwath has repeatedly slammed the previous Liberal government, of which Del Duca was a part, for having had almost 15 years in power to make major changes in long-term care.
Countries such as Denmark do a much better job of housing and caring for the frail elderly who can no longer live alone without help, said Del Duca, who cited his own aging parents as an example of why he believes the system needs to change.
As an example of the smaller type of accommodation that could arise from the Liberal policy, he said a suburban bungalow could be modified to become home to “seven or eight” seniors in a more familiar, homey setting with a nurse and personal support workers — an improvement from what a typical nursing home can provide.
“I want where they go to look and feel like home,” Del Duca said.
Speaking on background, a party official said nursing homes under construction by the Ford government would be completed, with design plans being altered where possible to make the layouts less “institutional.”
Interest costs on the purchases of for-profit homes transferred to not-for-profit and municipal operators would be about $150 million annually.
In other election news involving the Liberals, veteran Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle revealed Monday he will not be running June 2 after a recurrence of cancer from a decade ago.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION