Ontario's Progressive Conservative government tabled its highly anticipated long-term care overhaul on Thursday.
If passed, changes made by the bill will empower the government to take over unsafe homes and punish neglectful operators, according to a memo it provided.
The Long-Term Care Homes Act that was created in 2007 would be replaced by the new Fixing Long-Term Care Act, which will guide how nursing homes in Ontario operate.
The legislation would create a new long-term care supervisor position that's similar to those that oversee hospitals and school boards.
The long-term care (LTC) minister and ministry directors would be given the ability to suspend a home's licence and have a supervisor take over its operation without having to close the home. While run by an LTC supervisor, the ministry would have full control of the home until the licence suspension if lifted, the licence expires, it's revoked, or a solution is found.
Inspectors, the number of which the Ministry of Long-Term Care recently announced it would be doubling, would also be able to order homes to add staff, or offer better training or education, as well as other compliance orders.
"The focus on enforcement and real consequences for poor performance are critical," Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips said in an interview.
The new act would also contain new provincial offences. Anyone found guilty of one of the act's offences will be banned from being involved with an LTC home as an owner, board member, employee or volunteer.
Fines for offenders — which could include board members and corporations — would range from $200,000 to $1 million, depending on the perpetrator and whether it's a first-time offence. One exception is not-for-profit licensees, who would face $4,000 fines.
More than half of Ontario's 626 nursing homes are privately run, while others are not-for-profits, charities, or are run by municipalities.
"The most important part of the bill," according to Phillips, is the annual targets it sets for personal care that LTC residents receive per day. The government previously promised to "enshrine" in law that LTC residents receive an average of four hours of personal care — which includes feeding, bathing, dressing, and medical and therapeutic treatment — each day by 2025.
The PC government previously promised to spend $4.9 billion over the next four years to hire 27,000 full-time workers to hit the daily personal care targets that the new bill would set.
"More care and more staff are going to make for better long-term care homes and quality of life," Phillips said.
The minister of long-term care will be required to put together annual reports on each year's personal-care target — beginning with the first mark of three hours of personal care by March 31, 2022 — and, if targets aren't met, publish a plan explaining why, as well as how he or she will meet the next one.
The bill would also: require LTC homes to employ a staff member whose main job is infection prevention and control; make licence-holders establish palliative care services; create a minister-directed licensing-appeal process; and form a Long-Term Care Quality Centre to circulate best practices throughout the sector.
Other regulations regarding training requirements for LTC staff and the roles of caregivers and medical directors will be finalized after the bill becomes law.
The new bill is the third and final part of the Progressive Conservatives' plan to fix Ontario's floundering LTC system that they've unveiled.
Along with the $4.9 billion they've promised to use to hire 27,000 workers, the PCs have also announced intentions to spend $2.7 billion on creating 30,000 new beds by 2028. Most of this spending is planned later than next spring, meaning a new government could change course if the PCs aren't re-elected.
Separate from the bill that Phillips introduced on Thursday, the government also announced it was extending temporary wage increases for personal support workers (PSWs) who work in long-term care, home and community care, hospitals and some social services. These workers have received between an extra $2 to $3/hour since Oct. 1, 2020, which has cost the government $1.3 billion. Wage increases for about 158,000 PSWs will be extended until March 31, 2022, and will cost $373 million.
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