TORONTO — Ontario issued a new emergency order on Wednesday that will allow it to temporarily replace the management of some long-term care homes struggling to contain outbreaks of COVID-19, but the province’s health minister said there are no immediate plans to use it.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the new measure is meant to strengthen protections for vulnerable seniors in those facilities and ensure the province can move rapidly in case a home needs urgent help.
Elliott said thus far long-term care homes have co-operated with hospitals who have provided some resources and supervision, but should a home resist that aide the province can invoke this order.
“The making of this emergency order doesn’t mean that we’re going to do anything with it right now,” she said. “It’s just a tool in our toolbox to use if we need it so that we can move in rapidly if there’s some care homes that continue to have problems and are resistant to having any assistance.”
According to the latest government data, more than 1,200 long-term care residents have died of COVID-19 in the province, and 180 homes have outbreaks of the virus.
The order allows the province to step in if a facility has a high number of infections or deaths, or if it’s facing a staffing shortage.
The province said the appointed manager could be any person, corporation or hospital.
‘More hospital involvement’
But Elliott said that the wording of the order does not mean that control of more homes will handed over, even temporarily, to for-profit corporations.
“What we would anticipate is that there would be more hospital involvement with long-term care,” she said. “A hospital is a corporation as well … that is the kind of corporation that we anticipate would likely be involved should we need to move forward with this order.”
Last week, the government asked facilities with outbreaks to come up with a plan to stabilize the virus’s spread within their walls.
But opposition critics said the measure comes far too late to respond to the outbreaks which have spread throughout the province’s homes, an accusation Premier Doug Ford denied.
“We’re going to respectfully disagree about slow to respond,” Ford said. “We’re responding rapidly day-by-day and through the advice of our chief medical officer.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said provincial governments in Quebec and British Columbia moved weeks ago to take control of homes that were struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.
The New Democrats have been calling on the Ford government to do the same for weeks, she said.
“Families who have a parent or grandparent in long-term care in Ontario will no doubt be relieved to learn the government is finally using its power to take over management in these facilities, but many will wonder why their loved ones were left so vulnerable for so long,” Horwath said in a statement.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the Progressive Conservative government put Ontario residents unnecessarily at risk by delaying taking control of some long-term care homes.
“Time is all we had on our side to save the lives of residents and workers in long-term care,” he said in a statement.
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Ontario reported 329 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 40 more deaths.
That brings the province to a total of 21,236 cases, including 1,765 deaths and 15,845 cases that have been resolved.
The new cases represent an increase of 1.6 per cent over the previous day.
Hospitalizations dropped slightly, along with the numbers of people in intensive care and on ventilators.
There were 15,137 tests completed in the previous day, with almost 13,400 still under investigation.
The government has pledged to do 16,000 tests per day by now, with an eventual goal of 20,000 per day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.