TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic cast a spotlight on long-term care and showed that private corporations should not be in the business of elder care, say three of Ontario's four major political parties, who pledge to remove for-profit care from the system.
Ontario has a quickly aging population and shoring up the long-term care system is a stated priority for all parties, but the Progressive Conservatives, who are seeking re-election, have rejected calls to phase out for-profit operators.
They are instead focusing on increasing capacity, saying they are on track to exceed their 2018 promise to build 30,000 net new beds by 2028. There are 31,705 in the pipeline, according to their recent budget that is serving as the Tory platform, and the majority are set to become available between next year and 2026.
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford did not take questions from the media Thursday.
His spokeswoman, Ivana Yelich, said Ford and the Progressive Conservatives are working with partners "to get shovels in the ground" and make good on their commitment to build new beds "so our seniors get the quality of care they deserve."
Government figures show that the number of seniors in the province is expected to nearly double, from about 2.6 million in 2020 to almost 4.5 million by 2046. The 75 and over population is projected to more than double, from 1.1 million in 2020 to almost 2.7 million by 2046.
The other parties are also pledging to build new long-term care beds – 55,000 by 2033 promised by the Greens, 50,000 beds by 2030 promised by the NDP, and 30,000 new beds by 2028 promised by the Liberals.
But they say those spaces should be managed by the not-for-profit and municipal sectors.
"Collectively as Ontarians, we need to learn the lessons of what we saw take place during COVID, particularly for our seniors," Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Thursday in Richmond Hill, Ont.
"(Ford) legitimately seems to believe that putting shareholders and dividends ahead of care and ahead of our seniors is the best way to solve this problem."
More than 4,500 long-term care residents have died due to COVID-19. For-profit homes had nearly twice as many residents infected with the virus and 78 per cent more deaths compared with non-profit homes, according to research last year from scientists advising the government on the pandemic.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said long-term care was in crisis long before the pandemic, laying blame at the feet of both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments.
"We tried to get them for many years to invest in long-term care and to really turn around the horrific circumstances that people were living in, in long-term care homes, particularly the ones that were operated by private companies, but long-term care really did take the brunt," Horwath said in Brampton, Ont.
"More privatization in our health-care system is the wrong way to go. People should not be, corporations should not be, shareholders should not be reaping profits on the backs of our loved ones."
The Canadian Armed Forces released a report early in the pandemic after members were called in to assist at five hard-hit homes. It detailed "horrific" allegations of insect infestations, aggressive resident feeding that caused choking, bleeding infections, and residents crying for help for hours.
Four of the five homes were privately run, but Ford said at the time that not all for-profit operators should be painted with the same brush.
Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said removing private operators from the system would cost between $13 billion and $15 billion dollars.
"This additional funding should still be committed to the long-term care system, but would be better used adding more nurses and personal support workers or more safe, modern spaces to improve quality of care and life for residents," she said in a written statement.
"The next government faces stark challenges to meet the complex needs of our aging population. It will require all of us working together – across the public and private sectors – to stabilize and rebuild for our seniors of today and tomorrow."
The NDP say they would stop issuing new for-profit licences, stop renewing for-profit contracts and transfer delivery of those services to community health organizations and not-for-profit operators.
New Democrats say they would reallocate some of the Progressive Conservatives' planned infrastructure spend of $158.8 billion over 10 years to achieve that. They would put $750 million a year over eight years to provide direct financial support to municipalities, not-for-profits and other community organizations to help them take over the operation and ownership of for-profit homes.
The Liberals have laid out in their costing that they would budget $600 million over the next four years to finance the transfer of existing homes to not-for-profit entities and municipalities. They would aim to end for-profit care by 2028.
Del Duca said the Liberals would provide loan guarantees or have the province actually purchase the homes and own them as assets for a time before they are transitioned to the not-for-profit sector.
Ford's spokeswoman said the previous Liberal government built fewer than 700 long-term care beds in seven years.
"Now they want to spend billions more on a buy-out that won’t build a single new bed or hire a single new health care worker," Yelich wrote in a statement.
The Greens would increase base funding for long-term care by 10 per cent to begin the shift to non-profit elder care.
Lisa Levin, CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, which represents municipal and non-profit homes, said the association has encouraged all parties to recognize voters' preference for not-for-profit delivery of long-term care.
"The current election campaign is a once-in-a-generation chance to build a system of seniors’ care that improves the lives of tens of thousands of Ontarians," she wrote in a statement.
- With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Noushin Ziafati
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press