Last summer, Ford promised air conditioning in long-term care home rooms. That hasn't happened
Long-Term Care Ministry says it's working with sector to have 'adequate cooling systems' in place this summer
During a heat wave in July 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to "rapidly" mandate air conditioning in all long-term care homes, including residents' rooms. Nearly a year later, the province still hasn't done that.
Ford told reporters on July 8 that his government would act "immediately" to change the Long-Term Care Homes Act. The legislation requires homes without central air to provide at least one cooling area for every 40 residents and mandates a minimum temperature of 22 C, but no maximum temperature.
Ford himself pointed to the gaps in those requirements listed in Ontario's Long-Term Care Homes Act.
"Right now in the bill it says common areas are air conditioned, but just imagine someone sitting up in a third storey room," he said at a news conference last July.
"Sometimes [staff] don't have an opportunity to bring these patients, especially now, into these common areas. I can't imagine sitting there in 27 or 28 degrees of heat in a room, and it's just unacceptable."
WATCH | Ford vows to mandate air conditioning in long-term care homes:
The Ministry of Long-Term Care told CBC News that it had "collected information on mechanical cooling systems in all homes" in February.
"We are using this information to work with the sector to ensure that adequate cooling systems are in place for this summer to improve the health and well-being of residents," spokesperson Mark Nesbitt said in a statement Tuesday.
Lack of mandate 'makes no sense,' doctor says
Palliative care Dr. Amit Arya said it "makes no sense" that the province hasn't mandated system-wide change, especially following scathing reports from the military and long-term care commission about the deplorable conditions in homes and dehydration and neglect of residents.
The military provided medical and humanitarian aid at seven homes in Ontario as the system was overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases last spring.
"Renovations, whether it comes to fixing overcrowding or making sure that we have air conditioning, should have already been well underway and ready for the summer," Arya said.
"I mean, it's not a surprise that we have warm weather at this time, so I don't understand why this hasn't been done."
Ford's announcement last year followed reports of residents confined to their sweltering rooms during pandemic-related lockdowns and their families and advocates demanding urgent change.
Families remain frustrated
Nick Puopolo was among those calling for action. While visiting his 85-year-old mother at Woodbridge Vista Care Community, he measured the temperature in her room and found it was 27 C.
Following Ford's announcement last July, Puopolo was hopeful that next summer would be different. Now he's even more frustrated.
Ford "presents himself that he really cares and he's going to get it fixed," he said. "And it's all just words. There are no actions to the words."
Residents' families pushed hard for Sienna Senior Living to install air conditioning throughout the Woodbridge Vista facility, not just in common areas, said Puopolo.
Even now, he said, hundreds of fully vaccinated residents remain confined to their hot rooms as the home continues to grapple with COVID-19 outbreaks.
Sienna Senior Living, which is a for-profit company, sent out an email to residents' families this May saying that they were in the process of installing air conditioning throughout the home. Puopolo said he was told by the home that installation of central air should be complete by the end of June.
It's a small win for Woodbridge Vista, but Puopolo wonders if it would've happened at all without relentless activism on the part of families. That's why he says the province needs to make air conditioning mandatory across all homes.
"We keep pushing the executives, we keep getting the media involved to put pressure on them and they're doing it," Puopolos said.
Homes now have cooling in common areas
Ontario provided funding for air conditioning in long-term care homes and they are all now up to code with cooling spaces in common areas, according to Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, which represents 70 per cent of private, not-for-profit, charitable and municipal care homes in Ontario.
Homes are working toward installing air conditioning in residents' rooms, but she said it's not practical for some older facilities.
"Regardless of ownership everyone is stepping up and doing what they can ... to find solutions on a home-by-home basis," Duncan said. "Overall we are very pleased with the progress that's been made over the past year."
Ontario's largest for-profit long-term care operators, Extendicare, Chartwell Retirement Residences and Revera did not answer questions about which of their homes have air conditioning in residents' rooms. Duncan said she was unsure what percentage of homes have air conditioning throughout their facilities.
Sienna Senior Living said it meets Ontario's cooling requirements by providing air conditioning in common areas and has surveyed resident rooms.
"We are actively pursuing both long and short-term solutions to ensure mechanical cooling requirements are in place to not only meet but, where possible, exceed minimum requirements," said spokesperson Nadia Daniell-Colarossi.